Sometimes I just can’t follow a recipe to save my life. Last weekend, inspired by a beautiful picture from Kitchen Parade I had pinned to a board at Pinterest, I set out to make Alanna’s Strawberry Salsa. I bought the ingredients I needed: a box of strawberries that smelled heavenly, kiwis, a lime.
Back home I went out to cut a few sprigs from the chocolate mint plant thriving just outside my back door. There, before I even got started, I began to get side-tracked. I noticed the cinnamon basil growing nearby. I planted it this spring because it was pretty and sounded unusual but I never really know what to do with it. I pulled a leaf and crushed it between my fingers breathing in the scent. It did smell like cinnamon and cinnamon was in Alanna’s recipe. I cut a few sprigs and added them to my small bundle of mint.
Inside, I sliced the strawberries. As I reached for the apple I noticed some jicama that was left over from another recipe and decided to use it instead. It added its own agreeable note of crunch. Then I threw in some finely chopped fresh pineapple that hadn’t fit into a fruit salad I made earlier for brunch.
Remembering the discovery from a few seasons ago that balsamic vinegar is delightful with strawberries, I decided to substitute it for the lime juice in the recipe and stir in a little brown sugar for sweetness. Mixing things together I made a last minute decision to dial up the spicy notes of mint and basil with a pinch of fresh minced ginger.
Sometimes I think those kitchen improvisations are for the best. Salsas, like salads, often benefit when they are embellished with a little of this, a little of that, whatever you have on hand that tastes wonderful and makes an interesting combination. Better that than following the recipe to a tee without taking circumstances into account as I did for the Cantaloupe Salsa I also had on the menu.
I found cantaloupe at the market, precut in a plastic container. Trusting that it wouldn’t be cut if it wasn’t ripe I took it home. After chopping it I found it had no more taste than the jicama and far less of an interesting texture. Lesson: don’t use any fruit in a fruit salsa if it isn’t wonderfully ripe. It might look pretty but it won’t taste good. The sweetness is necessary to balance the spice and to allow the flavors to meld properly. That Cantaloupe Salsa is gorgeous but it still tastes like onions and feels like hot peppers without any of the sweet appeal that is intended.
The Strawberry Salsa, on the other hand, was fragrant, tart-sweet, and just a little spicy. Good strawberries made a good salsa and allowed for a creative revelation of ingredients. Had I followed Alanna’s recipe more closely I’m sure it would have been delicious but adapting it to the realities of my own kitchen at that moment made it my own Sweet Strawberry Salsa. Maybe those kiwis that I forgot all about adding at the end will even inspire another recipe adaptation next time I'm in the kitchen.
Note: If you enjoy reading about the experiences of Uncle Hal and other folks from the early 20th century, be sure to read Alanna’s sweet post where she introduces us to Strawberry Bill.