Salsas and Chutneys
by John DeMers

Salsas and chutneys: The first means nothing but "sauce," and the second is little more than Grandma's fruit preserves. Yet to modern diners, the mere mention of salsas and chutneys is an invitation to adventure in an exotic land.

The near fetish many restaurants now exhibit for salsas and chutneys speaks of their love of ethnicity itself. New World eateries that wouldn't give Grandma the time of day will bend their prep cooks over backwards to knock out a chutney. Or, if the chef wants to play Southwestern for the night, he or she can mix almost anything with a few tomatoes, hot peppers and a cooldown of cilantro — and a salsa is born.

Apart from appearances, however, salsas and chutneys offer the home cook-explorer a none-too-difficult chance to show off; not to mention a generally healthy alternative to the rich sauces Europe has long applied to nearly anything that could be slapped, coaxed or ladled onto a dinner plate.

However you slice it, and whatever you think of the taste transaction, salsas and chutneys are a bargain. They repay minimal time and effort with big-time drama at dinner. Which is exactly why all those chic modern chefs started making them in the first place!

Salsa entered the American food vocabulary from Mexico. Even though the word means only "sauce," aficionados soon came to appreciate the finer points. A salsa cruda, for instance, is an uncooked salsa, while a salsa verde is predictably green — thanks to tomatillos, green chiles, cilantro and the like. Today, all restrictions on ingredients have been removed, though the notion of a light, chilled topping for grilled chicken or fish still tends to fixate around Latin, Caribbean or Asian flavors.

Chutneys have a quite different parentage, based on the East Indian word "chatni" and hailing from the subcontinent. As a cooked condiment, chutney can wander at your pleasure from hot to mild, sweet to sour, chunky to smooth. While whipping up chutneys, don't forget that the sweetest ones are great as a spread for bread (think: fruit preserves), and that many are terrific with cheese.

We offer you three salsa options and two chutneys to try out in your own home — leading you well on your way to adventure.


Black Bean & Papaya Salsa with Grilled Halibut

Serves 4
 

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Marinating Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Salsa:

1/2 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup seeded and diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup diced celery
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup cooked black beans
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup diced papaya

Grilled Halibut:

2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 half-pound halibut fillets
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup grated orange zest

1. Lightly brown the onion in the olive oil over medium-high heat, then stir in the bell pepper, celery, cumin and spices. Sauté for 1 minute.

2. Transfer to a stainless steel bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Add the cooked black beans and all remaining ingredients, tossing to combine. Chill.

3. Pour the sesame oil over the halibut fillets and season with salt and pepper. Top with the grated zest and chill in refrigerator for 20 minutes.

4. Grill halibut for 6-7 minutes each side, or until it flakes with a fork. Top each fillet with 1/4 cup chilled salsa.

Note: If you are making this salsa ahead of time, add the papaya immediately before serving.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 392 Fat: 15g % fat calories: 34 Cholesterol: 73mg Carbohydrate: 13g Protein: 50g


Thai Citrus Shrimp Salsa

Makes 3 cups
 

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Juice of 2 limes
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon creamy organic peanut butter
1 teaspoon Asian chile sauce
1/2 cup diced cooked shrimp
1 ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons diced onion
1 tablespoon diced red pickled ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup julienned fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon finely minced lemongrass
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and black pepper to taste

1. In a large bowl, combine the lime and lemon juices with the soy, sesame oil, brown sugar, peanut butter and chile sauce.

2. Add all remaining ingredients and toss quickly. Chill and serve with grilled chicken or fish, or as an appetizer with tortilla chips.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 33 Fat: 1g % fat calories: 23 Cholesterol: 14mg Carbohydrate: 4g Protein: 2g


Mango Chutney Caribe

Makes about 8 cups (16 servings)
 

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 25-30 minutes

4 large unripe mangoes, peeled, seeded and sliced

1 teaspoon salt

1 Scotch Bonnet or jalapeño pepper

1 1/2 cups malt vinegar

3 garlic cloves

1/4 cup peeled and chopped fresh ginger

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup seedless raisins

1. Set the mango slices in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt.

2. Trim the stalks from the peppers and remove the seeds, then let soak in a little of the vinegar for about 10 minutes.

3. Combine the peppers in a blender with the garlic and ginger and process until diced.

4. Pour the remaining vinegar into a saucepan; add the pepper mixture and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

5. Add the mangoes and raisins, and simmer until thick and syrupy.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 84 Fat: 0.2g % fat calories: 2 Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate:22g Protein: 0.6g


Pineapple-Orange Chutney

Makes about 2 cups (8 servings)
 

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 minutes

1/2 cup raspberry vinegar
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup peeled, cored and diced fresh pineapple
1 cup diced orange segments
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon diced green bell pepper
1 bay leaf
4 black peppercorns
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

1. Reduce the vinegars over high heat in a large nonreactive saucepan until they are syrupy and measure about 1/4 cup.

2. Lower the heat to medium and stir in the diced pineapple and orange. Add the honey, wine and bell peppers.

3. Tie the bay leaf and peppercorns in cheesecloth and add to the pan, cooking the mixture until reduced by half. Remove the cheesecloth; strain mixture into a separate pan. Reserve the fruit.

4. Reduce the strained liquid in the pan until syrupy. Add the reserved fruit and cook over medium heat for 15 more minutes. Remove from heat.

5. Let the mixture cool and only then stir in the mint. Chill and serve.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 51 Fat: 0.1g % fat calories: 2 Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 14g Protein: 0.3g


Grilled Grouper with Tomato & Corn Salsa

Makes 4 servings
 

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Marinating Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 12 - 14 Minutes

Salsa:

1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup cooked corn kernels
1 tablespoon chopped red onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-2 drops jalapeño pepper sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Grilled Grouper:

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 half-pound grouper fillets
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. In a medium bowl, mix all the salsa ingredients and allow flavors to blend at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a large shallow dish, combine the lime juice, garlic, cilantro and olive oil. Season the grouper with salt and pepper and allow the fillets to marinate in the mixture for 20 minutes in the refrigerator.

3. Grill the fillets over medium-high heat for 6-7 minutes per side, until the fish flakes easily.

4. Transfer the grilled grouper to 4 serving plates and top with the room-temperature tomato and corn salsa.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 272 Fat: 5g % fat calories: 15 Cholesterol: 83mg Carbohydrate: 14g Protein: 46g

John DeMers is associate food editor for Cooking Light magazine and is the author of 18 books.
 

Photographs by Laurie Smith