Serious Eats: Recipes
Serious Salsa: Salsa Amarilla
Note: You may know Lisa Fain as the Homesick Texan. She joins us each Thursday this summer with a new salsa recipe for you to try. Have at it, Lisa.
My philosophy is that you can always judge the quality of a taco truck by the appearance of its salsas. For example, if there are no salsas for you to use then you should walk away--these people are not only stingy, but they're also probably not very proud of their food. If there are only one or two salsas--say, the requisite red and green--I'd probably stay, but first I'd check and see if there are other taco trucks in the area with more condiments on hand.
What exactly am I looking for? How about a truck that has an array of salsas--red, green, yellow and orange--along with pickled jalapenos, sliced radishes, chopped cilantro and onions. If I see this, there's no question--this taco truck is where I want to eat. And heck, even if the taco isn't all that great, you'll be able to make it sing with that chorus of delicious condiments. There's a taco truck I like to go to* and I started eating at it for this reason alone. Out on display for your eating pleasure are usually at least six salsas, if not more.
My favorite taco to order is a carnitas taco and this truck makes them especially well--crisp and juicy. And while I usually opt for a creamy green salsa to put on my carnitas, at this truck I choose a yellow salsa instead.
The first time I had this yellow salsa I was expecting habaneros, but this salsa wasn't that fiery. Instead, it was more hearty than hot and had a nutty flavor as well. Not being shy about asking for recipes, I asked the taco-truck proprietor if he'd tell me how it was made. He declined to share, but I did learn that he wasn't even Mexican--he was from Ecuador.
A little research led me to discover that in Ecuador they commonly make salsas from ají chiles, which are long medium-hot chiles that can be either red or yellow. They also often add sesame seeds, beans, or peanut butter to their salsas, which gives it a distinctive flavor.
The recipe I came up with is a hybrid of several I found, and while it may not taste exactly the same, it's pretty close to what I've eaten at this taco truck. Ají chiles aren't easy to find fresh—if you do see some, definitely buy them. Otherwise, for this salsa recipe you can substitute yellow wax chiles or even jalapenos, in a pinch.
I like to slather this on tacos, but it also goes well on top of potatoes, as a dipping sauce for vegetables or as a chunky dressing for salads. But the best thing about this salsa is what it represents: a salsa that goes beyond the expected and lets you believe that you're in for a treat.
About the author: Lisa Fain is a seventh-generation Texan who now hangs her hat in New York City. To keep in touch with her roots, she writes and photographs the food blog Homesick Texan.