My brilliant sister, who is studying Classics at Columbia, describes herself thus: “Champagne tastes, Diet Coke budget.” I hear that. I lived in New York for years on hilarious-yet-sad salaries and would balk at the prices of (among other things) red peppers – practically $6 for one big one. Insane! But I have finally found a way to capture all that incredible flavor and color of red peppers in a way that totally justifies the price tag, and satisfies my need to wow my guests: a Roasted Red Pepper Salsa.
This incredibly versatile and easy recipe comes together in minutes–once you’ve peeled the darn peppers. That part is a bit messy, but it is totally worth it, I assure you. The jarred stuff you buy from stores has nothing on the deep, concentrated flavor of peppers you’ve charred yourself.
You need to do two basic things. One: roast, peel and de-seed the peppers. Two: mix it with garlic, cilantro and a few seasonings. Pretty straightforward, right? Don’t let my long description of the process worry you; I just like to explain things in detail.
So here we go.
Olive oil – about 1T, maybe less
Salt, to taste (I like sea salt in this)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Minced cilantro, about 2T (more if you like cilantro, which I do)
Juice from half a lemon
Sugar, about 2t
Red bell peppers, about 5 big ones
- Roast the peppers: Turn on the broiler in your oven. Wipe them clean with a damp paper towel and rub them with a little olive oil–just a thin film. This will help them char faster. Line a broiling pan with aluminum foil and place peppers on it. (Cookie sheets can’t take the heat of the broiler, hence the heavier broiling pan. The foil makes clean-up a snap.) Broil, turning the peppers every 4 – 5 minutes to blacken the skin evenly. I let them broil till the skin is nearly entirely black. Take them out when the skins are nearly all black, put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or foil. The steam will loosen the skins.
- Prep the peppers: Once the peppers are cool enough to handle (about 15 – 20 minutes), transfer them gently to a work surface. Let the juices pool in the bowl. I squeeze the peppers lightly to catch the juices in the bowl before I transfer the peppers to a cutting board. Peel off the blackened skin. Pull the top off gently and most of the seeds will come off with it. Wipe the rest off with your palms. Resist the urge to wash the seeds off–that’ll wash off the flavor of the peppers too. Toss the peeled and de-seeded peppers back into the bowl. Don’t stress over a few teeny seeds here and there.
- Make the salsa: Toss the peppers with the garlic, cilantro, lemon juice, salt, pepper and sugar. You can add a bit of balsamic vinegar if you want. Honestly, it’s really yummy just like this. And it looks so good! Check it out:
How to serve
Besides just serving it straight up, like in the picture above, you can puree it to make a salsa–make it as smooth or chunky as you like. I served it as an amuse bouche by spooning it into little phyllo cups (pre-made, available in the frozen dessert section of the supermarket–I try to always have some in my freezer). The next day, we spooned the leftovers onto delicious homemade tacos. And it’s yummy as a dip, either with chips of veggies. I even just eat it straight.
It’s yummy drizzled with a balsamic reduction and topped with a crumbly goat cheese. Godmama, who always has a log of goat cheese at home, accidentally bought the honey-infused version of it a few days ago and, reader, it is delicious. The salsa and the goat cheese were a part of a lovely summer dinner eaten out in the backyard. Look at how vibrantly she sets the table!
Incidentally, a balsamic reduction is just balsamic vinegar simmered over medium-low heat till the water evaporates and the vinegar becomes thicker and a bit syrupy. It concentrates the flavor, that’s all. You can add a pinch or two of sugar to add some sweetness; that’s a lovely counterpoint to the vinegar and to the roasted peppers.
So there we are. Try it. I know red peppers are really expensive, but this is worth it. It’s a great way to showcase their incredible flavor.