Sochi salsa

It’s appropriate for me that the Winter Olympics are starting during New York’s Fashion Week, because a group of friends and I look at the opening ceremonies as a giant runway show. As we have for many times, on Friday we will gather to eat, drink and critique the athletes’ ceremonial uniforms as they walk in.

Many of us bring food inspired by the host country, although it’s not required. (One is bringing spanakopita, I found out today.) I have visited Russia and am interested in the country, so I brought out my Russian cookbooks and began considering dishes. There is more to Russian food than borscht.

Then I contacted my friend, Darra Goldstein, the author of “Taste of Russia” and “The Georgian Feast” and founding editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. She wrote a piece on the food of Sochi for Eating Well magazine.

Goldstein writes that Sochi has been a trade crossroads for centuries and was influenced by Greeks and other ethnic groups. (So maybe that spanakopita is appropriate after all.) Dishes often combine Russian flavors with those of Greece and Turkey. For example, she writes, Circassian chicken pairs poached chicken breast with ground walnuts, hazelnuts and cream. In the mild climate – this may the first time palm trees have been seen at a Winter Olympics – citrus fruits, grapes and tomatoes thrive.

Goldstein shared this recipe for a type of Georgian salsa in Eating Well. Sochi is near the border of Georgia. I was thinking of making Potatoes with Walnuts from “The Georgian Feast” for the party, but this sounds pretty darn good. It can be served with grilled meat or vegetables, or simply with crackers.

Adjika

1 large red bell pepper, cored and seeded

1/4 pound hot red jalapeno peppers, stems and most of the seeds removed (she likes to leave some seeds to give some bite but adjust for yourself)

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 large celery stalk including leaves

1 1/2 cups firmly packed cilantro, including tender stems

3/4 cup firmly packed fresh basil

3/4 cup firmly packed fresh dill ,including tender stems

1 tablespoon dried coriander

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Coarsely chop the bell pepper, jalapeno peppers and garlic and place them in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely ground. Roughly chop the celery and fresh herbs and add to the food processor along with the coriander, salt and vinegar. Pulse just until well mixed; the salsa should still have texture. Transfer the mixture to a container and let sit overnight in the refrigerator for the flavors to meld before serving.

Makes about 2 cups

Lily’s Salsa

At the recent Tomatopalooza (see the post from a couple of days ago for details and juicy photos), there was also a small salsa competition. One intrigued me because it combined sweet fruit with the tomatoes.

I’m a fan of fruit salsas, but not as a dip with chips. I use fruit salsa as a bright addition to simple grilled chicken or fish – and your guests will think you’ve gone upscale. I often make one using fresh peaches, but the one at Tomatopalooza had a different fruit involved, along with tomatoes.

When I found the salsa’s creator, Jodi Grubbs, she gave me the instructions and revealed the secret fruit: Pear.

To achieve the balance of flavors in this salsa, the type of tomatoes used are important. Grubbs used a combination of yellow, orange and red tomatoes along with the pears. Yellow and orange tomatoes have a less acid, more sweet flavor. Replace them all with tart-tasting reds, and you will lose the nice flavor mix in the salsa. So take the time to search out good heirloom tomatoes in the right colors.

Here are Grubbs’ instructions for Lily’s Salsa, which she named after her daughter: Finely chop 1/4 of a red onion, 1 medium pear (peeled) and 2 habaneros. Stir it all together and refrigerate for 2 days. Then chop 2 orange tomatoes, 2 small red low-acid-flavor tomatoes, 1 medium pear (peeled), 1 medium yellow tomato (she used a Lillian’s Yellow) and 6 leaves of fresh lemon verbena. Stir that into the mixture. Taste, add sea salt as needed and serve.