The Taste Bud: The salsa of my dreams

When I cook at home, I usually make it spicy. And meaty. And it usually revolves around Mexican cuisine on some level (although my cilantro-in-Cheerios experiment hasn’t yet yielded the desired results).

What I’m saying, really, is that I make a lot of tacos. Like, a lot of them. Usually with chicken. As in, I pretty much expect to turn into a chicken taco any day now. But I’m not here to tell you that. What I’m here to tell you is that I finally found a salsa that meets my taste buds’ expectations.

You see, due to my proximity to it, I usually end up at a local grocery store, which I shall not name. I will, however, disclose that the actual name of it rhymes with “Flirty Ogre.”

Anyway, I’m a fan of garden salsa, or pico de gallo — I like the freshness and cool crispness of the diced onions, tomatoes and peppers. Unfortunately, the only such salsa I’ve found at the Flirty Ogre isn’t particularly good. It lacks kick and, quite frankly, doesn’t seem terribly fresh.

But I was wandering around Trader Joe’s recently and found the answer to my prayers: Trader Joe’s Fresh Hot Salsa. It’s packed fresh, has no preservatives or artificial flavors or colors and, believe it or not, actually carries a respectable bit of heat. To make it even better, it’s only $2.99. What’s not to love?

Here’s how I’ve been using it: On tacos, I use either taco-sized white-corn tortilla shells or, if I want to be more healthy (and less messy), a large whole-wheat wrap. You could make your own chicken, but I take the easy way out and get the chili-lime chicken at Trader Joe’s. It’s not over-processed like the usual pre-packaged stuff, and is really nicely seasoned. Plus, you can get six tacos’ (or three wraps’) worth of chicken for $5, which ain’t bad.

After you heat the chicken and wraps, the sky’s the limit. I apply liberal amounts of the delicious salsa, chop some fresh cilantro, add a hot sauce that strikes my mood (El Yucateco Chile Habanero sauce is good, but I’m also somewhat addicted to Pain Is Good Batch #37), and top with shredded cheese. You could add sour cream, if you want to help balance the sting of the salsa, or even black beans.

Another tasty use for Trader Joe’s Fresh Hot Salsa is to spice up some tilapia. Fresh fish is better, obviously, but I use the frozen tilapia you can find most anywhere (even at Flirty Ogre). It’s cheap and simple, and yet so delicious: I simply tear a fairly large piece of aluminum foil and mold it into a container of sorts. Place the (thawed) tilapia inside, and dump a couple of dashes of olive oil over it, followed by a touch of black pepper and sea salt (sometimes I add cayenne and a pinch or two of bay seasoning, but it isn’t absolutely necessary).

Then, you just put as much salsa on top of the tilapia as you think your buds can handle, and bake for about 10-12 minutes. (If you like it a bit spicier, pour a little bit of the juice from the salsa container on top.)

The heat seems to cook away somewhat, but the flavor stays put. I fixed this for my girlfriend recently, and she kept repeating, “Oh my god, this so good. Oh my god.” I don’t hear her say that too often, so … hey, shut up!

You can also use Trader Joe’s Fresh Hot Salsa on eggs, in chili, in guacamole, as a marinade, or just as a dip with some tortilla chips — or, heck, make up your own use. All I ask is, please, if there are only one or two left on the shelf, please leave one for the Taste Bud. I can’t be expected to get my fix at the Flirty Ogre, you know.