Secretos de Salsa

by Jeanne


Anderson Valley, in Mendocino County about 100 miles north and almost 3 hours from San Francisco, depending on the weight of your foot, is a world onto itself. A true escape, with hills covered with thick groves of redwood and live oak. It’s a great place to drive in the fall as it’s the closest I come to New England without getting on a plane. There are quant inns, wineries and picnic spots to build an entire weekend around.

Fog creeps through the valley and cools the climate making it ideal for the ripening process of cool-weather northern European grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, and Chardonnay. The area’s population is full of ex-hippies, loggers, farmers and upscale vintners such as the Navarro Winery. The county pops up on the local news often when hippies who farm have their crop confiscated.

In a 2003 Travel & Leisure article Guy Trebay captured the local values in an article on the valley.

Along with this willed separation has come a preservation of the communitarian values that in much of America today seem about as vital as the dodo.

At some point, any conversation with an Anderson Valley local will turn to talk of potluck dinners for the rancher whose house burned down, of fund-raisers for a sick kid in need of chemotherapy. People speak with passion of pulling together to hold off the forces of monoculture and thus preserve the integrity of this extraordinarily unspoiled locale.

In California the backbone that keeps our agricultural economy going are the Mexican laborers. This area is no different. In the town of Boonville, population 975, the Anderson Valley Adult School teaches English twice a week to those new to the area from Mexico. During the three-hour class students bring snacks usually with salsa.

A few years ago the teacher Kira Brennan was looking for ways to make the school’s teaching methods more useful to the area’s large Spanish-speaking population. She came upon the idea of putting the various recipes into writing as a way to teach English as well as preserve some regional Mexican recipes. What she ended up with was a 25-recipe book titled, “Secrets of Salsa: A Bilingual Cookbook by the Mexican Women of Anderson Valley.”

According to a SF Chronicle article the monies raisesd from the sale of this collection go toward the annual cost to run the English program, which is supplemented by state money as well as grants and countless hours of volunteer work.

This collection is so endearing. The salsa recipes are given in English and Spanish, and include the sauce’s flavor profile, heat rating and serving suggestions. There are also instructions for the roasting of chiles, tomatoes and tomatillos, and for blending and grinding ingredients.

I tracked down the book through the publisher, Chelsea Green if you are interested in purchasing the book.

…continue on for Salsa Verde de Miel recipe

The combination of smoky roasted tomatillos with the subtle note of honey is perfect for quesadillas and tacos. The recipe author notes in the cookbook that this traditional salsa verde was her father’s favorite. He would eat it rolled up in freshly-made hot tortillas always with a glass of milk.

Salsa Verde de Miel

Mexican Green Honey Salsa
Estela Jacinto

1 lb. Tomatillos (husked)
1 small onion, quartered
1-3 Serrano chilies or jalapenos
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup freesh cilantro, chopped
1/2 tbs. honey or sugar
1/3-1/2 cup chicken broth
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Grill the onion, chilies, and garlic for approximately five minutes, turning them with tongs until they are evenly grilled. Roast the tomatillos separately from the other ingredients. Put all grilled ingredients into a blender and blend well. Ingredients can also be mixed in a molcajete (mortar and pestle). Empty contents of blender into a bowl. Add cilantro, honey (or sugar), and chicken broth. Stir. Season with salt and pepper. The salsa should have a liquid consistency. Add more broth if necessary.