SUMMERTIME STAPLES - SALSA AND GRILLING
Salsa: More Than Tomatoes
Combining tomatoes with spices and ingredients like squash seeds and even beans has been documented back to the Aztec culture. The traditional mixture of tomatoes, fresh chilies, onion, cilantro, garlic, and salt, known as salsa, was introduced to the United States by Mexican natives. Salsa is the Spanish and Italian word for sauce and is a staple in Mexican restaurants.
Initially used in the Unites States as a dip for chips, salsa has spread its wings for use as an ingredient, a condiment, a snack food, a side dish, or as a finishing touch for a main course. It can give flavor to recipes, add zip to a burger, be paired with pita chips for a quick pick me up, or be spooned onto tacos, quesadillas, tostadas, and empanadas. Salsa can also be used as a topping on poultry, fish, or salads, and can be mixed with your favorite whole grain and/or vegetable to create a healthy casserole. Any way you serve it, salsa is a colorful, low-fat, high-flavor alternative to gravies and sauces.
Salsa is so varied it is impossible to find it monotonous. And the ingredient options are limitless. They have gone far beyond the traditional blend of tomatoes and herbs and spices. Today’s salsas include a greater variety of chopped or roasted vegetables**, as well as fruits, grains, seafood and seasonings. Foods such as bell peppers, corn, zucchini, black beans, mango, papaya, pineapple, wild rice, nuts, shrimp, and flavors like cumin, garlic, and chili powder can all be part of salsa. The term has come to include just about any combination of chopped fruit or vegetable with hot or mild fresh herbs and spices. Salsas are easy to prepare and can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to two days. The possibilities and combinations are endless and limited only by your imagination!
** To roast vegetables, place them on a direct flame (right on the burner or under a broiler). If no direct flame is available, roast them on a baking sheet, in the oven, on high heat (400 degrees or higher). Cook the vegetables until the skin has blistered. For peppers and chilies, place the roasted vegetables in a bag, allowing them to “rest” for several minutes. Remove from bag and peel, discarding the skin and seeds.
GRILLING: More Than Great Taste
Any fan of grilling will tell you that there is nothing quite like the wonderful taste and texture of a perfectly grilled piece of seafood, cut of meat, or skewer of vegetables. But that’s just the beginning. Grilling is healthy, fast, energy efficient, and gets you outside.
Grilling offers a wonderful way to prepare healthy, flavorful foods without adding fat. In fact, meats can become lower in fat as the grease drips off. Grilling keeps the flavor and tenderness of meat and vegetables without depleting essential nutrients. And adding grilled vegetables and fruits to meals adds more fiber too.
The grilling process adds a smoky flavor to foods. Compliment it by using fat free marinades or spices that are low calorie and full of taste. Try a lemon juice- or balsamic vinegar-based marinade. Low sodium Worcestershire or soy sauce make great choices too. Or rub a blend of seasonings – like dry mustard, pepper, paprika - onto your meats and seafood. By keeping it dry, the rub will stay on the meat.
Time and Energy Saving -
Grilling cooks food faster than baking or using the stove. Grilling can minimize energy costs in your home by keeping the heat from cooking outside. Using a kitchen oven for a day can raise the room temperature by up to four degrees. The air conditioning then has to work that much harder and longer to bring the temperature back down. Outside grilling eliminates this situation and helps to keep energy costs lower.
Cooking food at high temperatures on a gas or charcoal grill does carry the risk of introducing carcinogens into the food and air. These cancer causing byproducts are formed when smoke from the burning fat touches the meat. The amounts produced probably don’t pose a great health hazard. But it is important to minimize them as much as possible by following these basic tips:
- Keep your grill clean. A clean grill cooks better and is safer.
- Trim excess fats from foods.
- Marinade the meat first.
- Avoid smoky flare-ups.
- Don’t char your meat; if you have charred sections of meat, cut them off.
- Use herbs like Basil, Mint, Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, and Sage to add flavor.
- Grill at a lower temperature for a longer period.
- Consider using an electric grill.
Added Benefits -
Some other, less often thought about, benefits of grilling include:
- Being outside - getting fresh air can be relaxing and improve your mental health
- A social component - Grilling is often done with family and friends
- The opportunity to be active – a game of volleyball, horseshoes or Hide N Seek – are great ways to add activity and fitness to the day
For salsa and grilling recipes, click here or see the recipe section of this website