When I turned five years old my grandfather bequeathed to me the treasure of our family (Well at least I think of it as the treasure of our family…I mean love is so overrated): his salsa recipe. Three years prior my brother had learned and my father twenty before that. It was just something that happened and I wasn’t one to argue. The first ingredient being stewed tomatoes I distinctly remember feeling as if we were putting little hearts into a blender and holding myself as if that would be my own heart one day, blended and enjoyed at mealtime for a particularly aggressive ogre or troll of some kind. I guess at five years I didn’t have many things to compare a stewed tomato to, but I had seen the animated Lord of the Rings cartoon that my dad had and after watching the fellowship take down some trolls I knew that there were creatures out there not afraid to taste some human. In hindsight, this is all ridiculous. I was miles away from any bridge, cave, or mountain so my fears of trolls were unwarranted.
Besides the stewed tomato hearts, the recipe is pretty simple. Crushed tomatoes are also used (I guess it’s a texture thing), garlic, some Serrano peppers (Amount varies based on spice preference), cilantro, salt, pepper, and some lime juice. To this day I don’t remember quantities but it always felt more like an instinctual recipe. At a certain point, you just know the correct amount. Your palette becomes used to what the correct amount of garlic, cilantro, and lime tastes like. That was also just how my grandpa cooked. He is a caterer by trade with his own business around Houston and the neighboring cities. He has his classics that he makes. It doesn’t matter if it is a dinner party for 10 or wedding for 200, he has always just known what the right amount of ingredients was. Having spent a good majority of my childhood helping out whenever I could I know for a catering of 50-70 people we use a gallon can of stewed tomatoes, two regular sized cans of crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of garlic, 3-4 Serrano peppers, one bunch of cilantro roughly chopped, a couple pinches of salt and pepper, and lastly the juice of 2 limes. All of this is combined into a blender and you just start and stop until it is at a healthy consistency. If we use the Tostitos scale, it is not quite restaurant style but neither is it chunky. It straddles the fine line between the two that gives it a weight without overpowering the food you apply it to and that’s how you know it’s a good salsa.
I guess it’s as good a time as any to say that I have a very large family. On my dad’s side alone (Where this recipe comes from) I have over thirty cousins. My dad being one of seven helps I guess. And my grandpa’s catering business; well it might as well be the family business. From my brother, the oldest of my generation, to my 4-year-old cousin, we’ve all helped out at caterings, whether we’re rolling tableware in napkins, serving the tea, or helping prepare the food, we ‘ve done it all. The best part of helping out at caterings was always being able to come home and after we unloaded the van we would be able to eat anything that was leftover. My favorite was always when he cooked fajitas because that meant that I was going to be able to have chips and salsa later. Some of my cousins don’t like our salsa because of the cilantro and when they make it they leave that out, some of us wouldn’t dare change the recipe, but we all know that when we see salsa on the table it’s going to be a good day and I think that is what defines a family recipe.
I might be biased, but I can honestly say that I’ve never had a better salsa. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy other salsas, just I know that I can always rely on this one. Sure other salsas might be better suited to different meals, for instance, if I’m having carnitas I’m going to want salsa verde, for a chipotle chicken I might choose a mango salsa, but I know that at the end of the day this salsa goes well with anything. Heck, my favorite taco is just a heated up tortilla with this salsa in it. That might not be everyone’s ideal but when I go home for quarter breaks it’s all I want. Hell, my grandpa has been in the catering business for over thirty years and his customers still say that he makes the best damn salsa they’ve ever had. It might be simple but sometimes it just works.
That’s the thing about family. There are ups and downs. There are birthday parties and there are funerals. Graduations, marriages, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Saturday, Every day. There is always a reason to gather. Holidays or not. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying it's Tuesday and I haven’t seen you since last week, I’m coming over, let’s make dinner. Sometimes a gathering can be simple and sometimes it can be an extravagant affair but all that matters it that it works; family or salsa the same rule applies. Just like a recipe based off of gut instinct when it comes to proportions, families just come together from some sort of unknown bond. Is it genetic, did we just get lucky? I don’t know. I do know that no matter what I love my family with all their stewed tomato hearts.