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Kick up your salsa for Cinco de Mayo
A little hot pepper and some garlic make all the difference
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Roasted tomato salsa paired with tortilla chips makes a fun, fast snack. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
It's a Mexican holiday celebrated by Americans: Oscar Saenz, manager of Mestizo Southwest Grill in Gainesville, grew up in Puebla, Mexico, and explains to us what the Battle of Puebla holiday means in his hometown.

Salsa is one of the easiest condiments to create, so don't shy away from preparing this Mexican staple.

In honor of Cinco de Mayo - the Mexican holiday on May 5 - we talked to a couple of local Hispanic eateries and grocery stores to get insight on the ease of making different salsas.

"There's not really a science to salsa; it's just very basic," said Oscar Saenz, manager at Mestizo Southwest Grill on Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville. "You don't have to have a lot of ingredients to make great salsa as long as you have salt, pepper, tomato and fresh garlic - there you go.

"At home I add more jalapeños to make it more spicy."

Employees at Supermercado El Maguey on Atlanta Highway add a special ingredient to some of their salsas: cactus.

Ingredients include cactus, tomatoes, jalapeños and onions. The cactus adds a soft texture to the salsa, according to Beatriz Soriano, manager at the Gainesville grocery store.

At Carniceria Tapatia in Gainesville, four different salsas are prepared daily: green tomatillo, red salsa, green salsa and salsa borracha.

"The red salsa from chile arbol is a little spicy and is made from a dry pepper," said manager Noe Covarrubias, whose father, Jesus Covarrubias, has owned the market for seven years. "The green (salsa) is made from fresh jalapeño.

"Salsa borracha (is) what we call ‘drunk' salsa - it's just cilantro, onion, tomato, jalapeño, salt - and it's all fresh and liquefied in the blender."

The green and red salsas are the most popular, he added.

"They are spicy; it depends on the jalapeño."

The salsa borracha is made by boiling tomato, jalapeño and "after it's boiled you stick it into a pan and mush it up and add onions and cilantro and salt," Covarrubias said.

At Mestizo Southwest Grill, the salsa bar has flavors like grilled tomatillo, guacamole, fresh tomatillo, picante, salsa roja and traditional tomato-based chip salsa.

But Saenz said the most popular of their flavors is the roasted salsa with grilled tomatoes and jalapenos.

"First of all he ("burrito master" Hugo Rebollar) grills the tomatoes and jalapeños," Saenz said. "Then he chops the onions and cilantro, adds 2 ounces of fresh lime in order to have a good taste ... 2 ounces garlic and 3 ounces salt."

At Mestizo the tomatoes, jalapeños, onions, cilantro, lime, garlic and salt are added to a blender and mixed for a couple of seconds for a nice consistency for tacos or nacho chips.

Rebollar added it is important to add fresh garlic to salsa and to grill the tomatoes and jalapeños for about 30 minutes.

While a tomato-based salsa like this is appropriate to top chicken and meat dishes, Saenz said other salsas flavored with fruit are good on seafood.

One of the hottest peppers that can be added to salsa is the chile manzano, similar to habanero.

Use it with caution, Covarrubias said.

"That one you just chop it up with green onions and let it soak in lemon juice," Covarrubias said. "You just take the slices of pepper and put it on a taco. ... It's just really hot and those seeds are black. They are so hot they will make you cry."

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