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      RECIPE TITLE "Essential Chopped Tomato-Serrano Salsa (Salsa Mexicana Clásica) "
    Recipe from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant flavors of a World-Class Cuisine  by Rick Bayless

    ... more great recipes by Rick Bayless on our GREAT CHEFS page!

    yields makes 2 cups difficultyeasy

    The tenderness of ripe tomato against the crunch of raw onion, the tap dance of serranos backed up by aromatic cilantro, garlic and lime -- this is Mexican cooking at its most beguiling.

    Of course, Salsa Mexicana is best when each ingredient is perfect -- from warm, just-picked tomatoes to green-tops-on white onions -- but don't miss the pleasure of this salsa even when the tomatoes are less than perfect. Chop everything with a sharp knife so nothing gets bruised and finely enough that the flavors really meld. Make your salsa within an hour or so of serving for great texture and vibrant flavors.


    12 ounces (2 medium-small round or 4 or 5 plum) ripe tomatoes
    Fresh serrano chiles to taste (roughly 3 to 5, 1/2 to 1 ounce total, or even more if you like it really picante), stemmed
    A dozen or so large sprigs of cilantro
    1 large garlic clove, peeled and very finely chopped (optional)
    1 small (4-ounce) white onion
    1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
    Salt, about 3/4 teaspoon


    Core the tomatoes, then cut in half widthwise and squeeze out the seeds if you wish (it will give the sauce a less rustic appearance). Finely dice the flesh by slicing it into roughly 1/4-inch thick pieces, then cutting each slice into small dice. Scoop into a bowl.

    Cut the chiles in half lengthwise (wear gloves if your hands are sensitive to their piquancy) and scrape out the seeds if you wish (not only will this make the salsa seem less rustic, but it will make it a little less picante). Chop the chiles as finely as you can, then add them to the tomatoes. Carefully bunch up the cilantro sprigs, and, with a sharp knife, slice them 1/16, inch thick, stems and all, working from the leafy end toward the stems. Scoop into the tomato mixture along with the optional garlic. Next, finely dice the onion with a knife, scoop it into a small strainer, then rinse it under cold water. Shake to remove excess water and add to the tomato mixture. Taste and season with lime juice and salt, and let stand a few minutes for the flavors to meld.

    Advance Preparation -- This salsa tastes best within a few hours of the time it's made, though if using as the base of a cooked dish you can make it early in the day.

    Other Chiles You Can Use -- Three to five jalapeños can be substituted for serranos, as can habaneros, though in the last case you'll want to use just 1/2 to 1 chile.

    Traditional Dishes that Use this Essential as a Starting Point

    Guacamole; Roasted Cactus Salad; Classic Seviche Tostadas; Mexican Rice Supper; Deluxe Scrambled Eggs; Shrimp a la Mexicana

    Simple Ideas from My American Home

    Great Summer Supper -- When you're making the salsa, chop an extra 2 garlic cloves and 2 serranos and mix them with 2 or 3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and a little grated lime zest. Use this mixture to marinate about 1 1/4 pounds of trimmed skirt steak (to serve 4) for an hour, then charcoal-grill and serve with a liberal sprinkling of the salsa.

    Simple Confetti Pasta -- Make the salsa without the lime juice. Boil 12 ounces of fresh pasta for 4 people until al dente, drain, return to the pan and drizzle on a little olive oil. Mix in the salsa, tossing until everything is warm, then divide onto plates and sprinkle with finely crumbled Mexican queso añejo or Parmesan and chopped cilantro.

    A Different Potato Salad -- Cube a pound of boiling potatoes and boil in salted water until just tender. Drain, and, while hot, gently toss with olive oil and a little mellow vinegar. When cool, gently stir in about a cup of the salsa and more cilantro if you like.

    Fresh Serrano Chiles

    In the workaday world of my kitchen (restaurant or home), fresh serranos are indispensable. They're hot and intense with a pure-and-simple flavor that only can be described as "green chile," unless of course they've matured to a sweeter -- but still hot -- red. Many Americans know instinctively to chop up serranos to add zing to a dish, yet few of us think of pickling them. We should, since just about anywhere jalapeño is appropriate, so is a serrano, especially if you like spiciness and bold flavors. And keep in mind that a serrano is more predictably hot than a jalapeño. It is certainly more beloved in Mexico, where most people call it simply chile verde, "green chile."

    The compact texture of a serrano's raw flesh is compact in flavor, too: green apples and raw green beans mixed with a sharp heat and what I think of as the perfect, bright-green, almost limey, green-chile flavor that lingers with hints of olive oil and cilantro.

    Stats: An average serrano is the color of a green bell pepper with some ripening to yellow or red. There are about 6 to an ounce, each 1 1/2 to 2 inches long by about 1/2 inch wide, having a bullet-shaped body, with rounded shoulders that tapers to a point near the end.


    Great tomatoes are a critical ingredient in Mexican cuisine, second only to chiles. So what do you do when it's winter, you want to make great Mexican food and you live in St. Louis? Well, the situation has improved. Sinaloa, in northwestern Mexico, ships crates of plum tomatoes our way during the winter months. Though they're picked pretty green and gassed to ripen, they are certainly okay in cooked sauces. In fact, if you let the tomatoes ripen on the counter, and never refrigerate them unless they're so ripe they'll spoil, the sauce will be quite good.

    Plum tomatoes (called tomates guajes or jitomates guajes in much of Mexico) work well in cooked sauces because they have a pulpier, less juicy texture that cooks up rich and thick. For chopping raw or for roasting and crushing into a salsa, I prefer the juicy texture of round tomatoes (called tomate or jitomate with or without the adjective redondo). Cherry tomatoes taste riper than round tomatoes in off-peak months, but their skins are tough in salsas; the small round hothouse varieties (especially those imported on the vine) are a better, though expensive, option.

    Bottom line: Ripeness is more important than shape, and by "ripe" understand that I mean "very ripe, soft ripe, riper than you'd usually think of as ripe." For cooked sauces, canned tomatoes (preferably plums) may be substituted for fresh (a 28-ounce can is equivalent to 1 1/2 pounds fresh), though you're sacrificing some texture and all the flavor you'd get from roasting the tomatoes.

    At farmer's markets, look for a high-acid tomato if you want your dishes to really sing. I love an heirloom variety they sell in Chicago called costoluto. It's very similar to a deeply fluted tomato folks seem to like so much in Oaxaca -- medium pulpy and good both for cooking and eating raw. I highly recommend roasting and peeling tots of late-summer ripe tomatoes to freeze for the winter.

    Stats: An average plum tomato weighs 2 to 3 ounces, a medium-small round weighs 6 ounces, a medium-large weighs 8 ounces, and a large weighs 10 ounces.

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    book coverRick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant flavors of a World-Class Cuisine
    BURSTING WITH BOLD, COMPLEX FLAVORS, Mexican cooking has the kind of gusto we want in food today. Until now, American home cooks have had few authorities to translate the heart of this world-class cuisine to everyday cooking.
    In this book of more than 150 recipes, award-winning chef, author and teacher Rick bayless provides the inspiration and guidance that home cooks have needed. With a blend of passion, patience, clarity and humor, he unerringly finds his way into the very soul of Mexican cuisine, from essential recipes and explorations of Mexico's many chiles to quick-to-prepare everyday dishes and pull-out-the-stops celebration fare.
    Bayless begins the journey by introducing us to the building blocks of Mexican cooking. With infectious enthusiasm and an entertaining voice, he outlines 16 essential preparations-deeply flavored tomato sauces and tangy tomatillo salsas, rich chile pastes and indispensable handmade tortillas.
    Fascinating cultural background and practical cooking tips help readers to understand these preparations and make them their own. Each recipe explains which steps can be completed in advance to make final preparation easier, and each provides a list of the dishes in later chapters that are built around these basics. And with each essential recipe, Bayless includes several "Simple Ideas from My American Home"-quick, familiar recipes with innovative Mexican accents, such as Baked Ham with Yucatecan Flavors, Spicy Chicken Salad, Ancho-Broiled Salmon and Very, Very Good Chili.
    Throughout, the intrepid Bayless brings chiles into focus, revealing that Mexican cooks use these pods for flavor, richness, color and, yes, sometimes for heat. He details the simple techniques for getting the best out of every chile-from the rich, smoky chipotle to the incendiary but fruity habanero.
    Then, in more than 135 recipes that follow, Bayless guides us through a wide range of richly flavored regional Mexican dishes, combining down-home appeal and convivial informality with simple culinary elegance. It's all here: starters like Classic Seviche Tostadas or Chorizo-Stuffed Ancho Chiles; soups like Slow-Simmered Fava Bean Soup or Rustic Ranch-Style Soup; casual tortilla-based preparations like Achiote-Roasted Pork Tacos or Street-Style Red Chile Enchiladas; vegetable delights like Smoky Braised Mexican Pumpkin, or Green Poblano Rice; even a whole chapter on classic fiesta food (from Oaxacan Black Mole with Braised Chicken, Smoky Peanut Mole with Grilled Quail and Great Big Tamal Roll with Chard with the incomparable Juchitan-Style Black Bean Tamales); and ending with a selection of luscious desserts like Modern Mexican Chocolate Flan with KahIua and Yucatecan-Style Fresh Coconut Pie. To quickly expand your Mexican repertoire even further, each of these recipes is accompanied by suggestions for variations and improvisations.
    There is no greater authority on Mexican cooking than Rick Bayless, and no one can teach it better. In his skillful hands, the wonderful flavors of Mexico will enter your kitchen and your daily cooking routine without losing any of their depth or timeless appeal. More info
    book cover Mexico One Plate At A Time
    Rick Bayless has been acclaimed widely as America's foremost proponent of Mexico's thrillingly diverse cuisine. In this companion book to his 26-part Public Television series, he takes us, with boyish enthusiasm, through Mexican markets, street stalls and home kitchens to bring us the great dishes of Mexico, one "plate" at a time. And each "plate" Rick presents here is a Mexican classic. Take guacamole, for instance. After teaching us the essentials for a perfect, classic guacamole, Rick shows how to spin contemporary interpretations, like his Roasted Poblano Guacamole with garlic and parsley. Rick's cuisine is always lively, but rooted in strong traditions.
    Always the teacher, Rick begins each "plate" with some never-before-found features: traditional benchmarks (Rick's idea of the best guacamole), when to think of the recipes (weeknight dinners or casual party food), and advice for American cooks (Rick's insight into the ingredients that make the dish). He rounds out each "plate" with suggestions for working ahead.
    To complete the journey into the Mexican mindset, Rick, with help from his testers, ends each "plate" with a question-and-answer section detailing just about everything a home cook might want to know: What are the best cuts of beef for grilled tacos? The best cheeses for quesadillas? Is one grill better than another? Rick draws from his years of living in Mexico, pulling us into the Mexican kitchen, to teach us how to create authentic Mexican dishes in our American kitchens.
    Rick is an Indiana Jones of the stove, a Julia Child of Mexican cuisine in black jeans and a T-shirt. Rick's goal: to enable folks all across the United States to create dishes that weave in the rich tapestry of Mexican flavor with ingredients that are widely available. He always provides ingredients that make the dish authentic, but he also delivers with the right substitute if an ingredient is hard to find.
    Experience food you can't wait to make in a new and user-friendly cookbook that contains the full range of dishes -- Starters, Snacks and Light Meals; Soups, Stews and Sides; Entrées; Desserts and Drinks. Rick serves up such classic Mexican plates as Tomatillo-Braised Pork Loin, Quick-Fried Shrimp with Sweet Toasty Garlic, Chiles Rellenos, Cheesy Enchiladas Suizas, and Mexican Vanilla-Scented Flan.
    And for an exciting taste of the unexpected, try Rick's contemporary interpretations of the classics -- Crispy Potato Sopes with Goat Cheese and Fresh Herbs, Grilled Salmon with Lemon-and-Thyme-Scented Salsa Veracruzana, Broiled Flank Steak with Tomato-Poblano Salsa and Rustic Cajeta Apple Tarts with Berry "Salsa."
    Food and friends, food and family. Good cooking, for Rick, is the unspoken animator of friends and family as they gather to share a meal. Rick's recipes lend themselves to weeknight family meals or celebrations. Take part in a tamalada, the tamal-making party before the party, or the ritual of a barbacoa, an earthy experience that Rick has made possible with a kettle grill in the backyard. More info
    book coverMexican Everyday (Recipes Featured on Season 4 of the PBS-TV series In his previous books, Rick Bayless transformed America's understanding of Mexican cuisine, introducing authentic dishes and cooking methods as he walked readers through Mexican markets and street stalls.
    As much as Rick loves the bold flavors of Mexican foods, he understands that preparing many Mexican specialties requires more time than most of us have. Mexican Everyday is written with the time sensitivities of modern life in mind. It is a collection of 90 full-flavored recipes—like Green Chile Chicken Tacos, Shrimp Ceviche Salad, Chipotle Steak with Black Beans—that meet three criteria for "everyday" food: 1) most need less than 30 minutes' involvement; 2) they have the fresh, clean taste of simple, authentic preparations; and 3) they are nutritionally balanced, full-featured meals—no elaborate side dishes required. Companion to a thirteen-part public television series, this book provides dishes you can eat with family and friends, day in and day out. Color throughout. More info
    book cover Salsas That Cook : Using Classic Salsas To Enliven Our Favorite Dishes
    Salsas That Cook is a breakthrough in contemporary American cooking. Here, Mexico's classic salsas get put to work in our kitchens in the same way we use a variety of international condiments, from teriyaki sauce to balsamic vinegar, to enliven and redefine the flavor of many American favorites. While most of us have enjoyed salsas as chip dips, salsas show great versatility when weaving complex flavor into simple dishes, from pasta to potatoes to meats, fish and vegetables.
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    The uniqueness of this book, though, is in the way these six salsas are used. Here they give their pizzazz to chile-glazed roast chicken, grilled pork tenderloin and seared sea scallops with jalapeño cream. Familiar Mexican favorites have always used salsas for vitality, and many are here, from tangy guacamole to tortilla soup and grilled chicken tacos. In Salsas That Cook, the magic of Mexico transcends all borders. More info
    book cover Authentic Mexican 20th Anniversary Ed: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico
    Americans have at last discovered Mexico's passion for exciting food. We've fallen in love with the great Mexican combination of rich, earthy flavors and casual, festive dining. But we don't begin to imagine how sumptuous and varied the cooking of Mexico really is.
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    The master recipes feature all the pointers you'll need for re-creating genuine Mexican textures and flavors in a North American kitchen. Menu suggestions and timing and advance-preparation tips make these dishes perfectly convenient for today's working families. And traditional and contemporary variations accompany each recipe, allowing the cook to substitute and be creative.
    Rick and Deann Bayless traveled more than thirty-five thousand miles investigating the six distinct regions of Mexico and learning to prepare what they found. From town to town, recipe by recipe, they personally introduce you to Mexico's cooks, their kitchens, their markets, and their feasts.
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