On a big training day, we usually don't have "real" food until dinner, sticking with mild, not rich, sometimes even bland foods between workouts. So by dinner I crave something flavorful and filling and packed with fresh vegetables.
I made a cold corn salsa all last summer and spooned it on everything from corn tortillas to fish to salad. The salsa served as both the dressing and the vegetables, adding lots of flavor without excess fat.
When the corn disappeared and the weather chilled, I hankered for something warmer. I can find halfway decent cherry tomatoes most of the year and, with a little cooking, they release enough juice to make a sweet dressing. Jalapeno adds a kick. I remove most of the ribs and seeds, so it’s not a searing heat. Then I chop it to the size of mini chocolate chips; that way the spice mellows with cooking, but the pepper retains some crunch.
So far this fall I’ve savored this tangy salsa over sautéed kale and a raw kale salad. One afternoon I slathered it on cheese toast. In an effort to eat healthfully between holiday feasts, I’ve made this wholesome salad weekly: thinly sliced romaine lettuce and farro (or brown rice or quinoa) topped with the salsa; unsalted pumpkin seeds; and roasted, broiled, or grilled salmon. I look forward to trying the salsa with pasta and shrimp for a heartier winter dinner. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Other than burning the shallots, the only real way to flub this recipe is to use too many cherry tomatoes. I discovered this when I added two extra handfuls. The extra liquid and acid from the tomatoes pickled the jalapenos, turning them swamp green. The flavor was pungent and icky. Stick with a pint or less of tomatoes (between 10 and 12 ounces is perfect) to avoid pickling.
Do ahead: I like to cook the salsa in the morning, so all I have to do when I come home from my afternoon workout, exhausted and starving, is roast the fish, toss the salad, or make the toast.
Warm Tomato Shallot Salsa
Time: about 25 minutes
Serves 2 as a dressing for salad or over fish, 4 to 6 on a cheese toast snack
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 or 4 shallots (about 4 ounces), sliced lengthwise into crescents
1 pint (12 ounces or less) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 jalapeno, most of the ribs and seeds removed, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat a large frying pan* over high heat for 1 minute. Add the olive oil, the shallots, and a pinch of salt, and stir to coat the shallots in the oil. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring every minute or so, until the shallots are soft and translucent, 4 to 7 minutes. (If they start to brown, remove the pan from the heat for a minute, lower the heat, and put the pan back on the burner.)
Add the cherry tomatoes and a ½ teaspoon of salt to the pan, stir, and turn the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring every minute or so, until the tomatoes wilt and release some juice, 3 to 5 minutes.
Add the rice vinegar, raise the heat to high, and cook until the acidity mellows, 2 to 3 minutes. (To test this, stick your face over the pan and sniff. When the smell no longer burns your nostrils, the acidity has mellowed.)
Stir in the jalapenos, add 3 to 4 grinds of black pepper, and cook until the jalapenos lose some of their bite, about 3 minutes.
*Note: I use a 12-inch stainless steel frying pan for this dish. I avoid non-stick pans whenever I can. And I never use a non-stick when I want to start with a hot pan, since I’ve read that non-sticks can emit toxic gasses when heated empty. Even the new, PTFE- and PFOA-free lines creep me out, so I use non-sticks only when I have to: for searing fish or tofu, sometimes for browning sausages, and for cooking eggs (my New Year’s resolution will be to bust out the cast-iron pan I inherited from one of my old apartments).