A couple months ago Matt and I stopped ingesting large sums of caffeine. For people who spend a lot of time at their computers – programming and writing respectively – this is sort of professional suicide. We cut out basically everything except chocolate. And I’m not saying we swapped it out for some English Breakfast or Mate (which, BTW, is NOT coffee, but a bitter tonic that makes you feel like your chest is in a vice grip). For people who know us, this was a huge red flag – not the first indication that we’d gone off the deep end. They assumed we were half way to converting to Jainism and wearing bug nets in front of faces so we didn’t, perchance, swallow an unsuspecting fly, and that our cussing had been reduced to references to sweet snacks. Naaah, we’re still us, just not artificially pepped up like jackhammers. Really, my body needed a break. The caffeine wasn’t working anymore. Part of me also assumed I’d be like all the other 20-somethings out there who look back fondly and sheepishly at that one glorious year after college when they attempted to get off the juice. Or that it would be like the time we went on THE MASTER CLEANSE. We subjected ourselves to a few days of eating lemons, grade A maple syrup and cayenne pepper before we broke down, partially because we could barely concentrate enough to remember to drink the stuff, and raced around Manhattan looking for maple sugar candy leaves or a maple tree to tap. This is before we realized Manhattan is not in New England.
But to stop drinking coffee was nothing like this. It started as a haze and was followed by some serious tiredness; tiredness like it’s a disease. We could feel a huge sigh from our bodies, as in “thanks a f*cking lot.” And then it more or less disappeared. Yes, I have trouble concentrating sometimes. Yes, I get seriously tired sometimes. But I can sense my body’s level of energy more, anticipate what I need more. I generally feel less like a zombie and more alive. And yes, I still each chocolate, so I can’t say I am 100% scrubbed clean.
So what, pray tell, could this possibly have to do with a delicious, salty, smoky salsa? Well I’ll tell you, it’s all in the chips. See when the caffeine stopped flowing, we found ourselves gravitating towards natural, physical stimulants: like the age-old chips and salsa. It sounds totally ridiculous, but there is no better wake-up call when driving than a delicious handful of a couple crispy fried tortilla chips. Prove me right or prove me wrong.
This recipe came about while we were in chip and salsa mecca: Santa Fe. Poblanos have a wonderful smoky sweetness when you roast them, which is what you should always do with chiles. The heat of the salsa and the crisp, exploding chip in your mouth reminds you of the power of food – to enliven, enhance, and stimulate the senses. Sometimes this can be taken overboard. But right now, boy, tortilla chips and homemade salsa, I am so happy to have found you again.
Roasted poblano salsa with tomatoes, onions, and black olives
4 poblano chiles
1-2 jalapeño chiles (depending on heat and preference)
3 medium-sized tomatoes, diced, about 1 1/2 cups
1/2 large large sweet onion, peeled
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, dry roasted in a frying pan and ground
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 handful salt-cured black olives, pitted and chopped coarsely
Fresh squeeze of lime juice
A handful of cilantro leaves, washed, and minced
Get a few plastic bags or a bowl and some saran wrap ready. Roast the poblanos and jalapeño(s). With a pair of tongs over a gas stove, place the peppers in the center of the flame and turn up to high. Allow each side to char completely before turning over with the tongs. If the pepper is too long you may need to move the chile to the edge of the burner to get the tip charred. Once each chile is evenly charred, place it into the ziploc or bowl and allow to steam for 10 minutes.
Once cool, remove the chiles and holding the stem in one hand, run your thumb and forefinger down the length of each poblano to remove the charred skin. If it doesn’t all come off, take a paring knife and scrape the excess. Do not run the chile under cold water. De-stem, seed, and dice the chiles. Remove the skin from the jalapeño(s). De-stem and de-seed (if desired), then chop the chile(s).
Take the peeled and halved onion and place, outside down onto the burner. Once turning soft and charred on the outside, remove from the heat and remove the outside layer. Don’t do this with the skin on, as it will burn too quickly and make a ashy mess. Dice the onion.
Assemble all ingredients in a bowl. Adjust seasoning. Allow to sit for 10-20 minutes for the flavors to meld. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips.
Selecting a chip
We ate our fair share of tortilla chips in Santa Fe and, well, I guess I have opinions about tortilla chips, now, don’t I? While they’re not the most healthful of maize products, nor are they traditionally Mexican, they are a lesser evil that I love. Here’s some of the skinny (and the fat) on your options. Once I buckle down and learn to make soft corn tortillas, I will be frying them up pronto.
Like many other foods in history, the tortilla was “discovered” by arrogant, greedy, blood-gold-and-spice-lusting Europeans, who came across a native food in their search for wealth, named it in their own language, then massacred the people and incorporated the food into their own diet. In this case the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortez and his men observed the flat corn bread, known in the native Nahuatl language as tlaxcalli (from the Aztecs or Mayans), named it the tortilla (after the Spanish rounded cakes of that name) and then killed off both cultures and destroyed much of their very un-Christian knowledge.
The original tlaxcalli was probably made by combining maize with ash from the fire and water. This process allowed the maize to be more easily ground and liberated proteins and vitamins for digestion, namely the B-vitamin niacin. Failing to recognize this technique, many of the first Europeans of the New World developed the deficiency disease pellegra. Today limewater (the mineral, not the fruit) is used, and the process is called nixtamalization. After adding the alkaline solution, the maize is cooked, steeped, and washed. At this stage it is referred to as nixtamal. Then it is either ground and used as masa (wet dough), or dried for masa harina (dry flour). The wet dough can be turned directly into tortillas, while the dry needs to be reconstituted with water. Bob’s Red Mill has a good masa harina.
The frying and shape of the tortilla chip came as late as the mid-20th century as a lucrative byproduct of our industrial food system. In the 50s, El Zarape Tortilla Factory in California revolutionized the tortilla making process with the first industrial machine, producing tortillas a dozen times faster than could be done by hand. At first the machines also produced many misshapen tortillas. These were discarded until company president Rebecca Carranza thought to fry them up in oil. The resulting “Tort Chips” became the business’ primary product, which sold for a dollar and ultimately developed into an industry that names Doritos among its biggest sellers.
We look for Organic chips with minimal ingredients that aren’t too greasy and have a good crunch. Outside of good Mexican restaurants, we’ve been enjoying Que Pasa, made from Organic blue corn and non-GMO canola oil (Organic Blue Corn), Garden of Eatin (Organic Blue Chips and Red Hot Blues) and Xochitl (Totopos de Maiz).
While we really enjoy the taste of Food Should Taste Good‘s Chocolate, Lime, and The Works, they don’t offer an organic corn chip. Next to soy, corn is the most highly processed ingredient in our food system. For us, eating non-organic GMO corn and its products is something that, regardless of taste, we avoid at all costs. While Organic foods are not the cleanest, most nutritious, most cared-for, or least processed foods in general, when it comes to foods like corn, the Organic label at least indicates that the food has not been genetically modified. And as I find with virtually all foods, the deeper the color, the richer the taste. So I generally buy blues, baby.
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