It’s time for major snacking as the NCAA men’s and women’s basketballtournaments (aka March Madness) begin. When I was food editor of the San Jose Mercury News, I often tied to match the foods for big sporting events to the teams participating or the cities in which the games were played. So, for example, if the NCAA championship was being held in New Orleans, I’d write about making gumbos and étouffées. But what do most people make? Old favorites like salsa and guacamole and maybe a pot of chili.
Freshly made salsa beats the stuff in cans and jars every time. Even salsa made with winter tomatoes tops canned salsa, as long as you grill or roast the tomatoes to give them a flavor boost. If you want more heat from my Roasted Tomato Salsa (which is about medium spicy), leave in some or all of the seeds and membranes from the jalapeno or serrano peppers, which is where most of the heat resides.
Guacamole gets slimmed down quite a bit here with the aid of salsa and non-fat sour cream. There is just enough of both to retain the avocado’s subtle silky qualities. Just make sure those avocados are nice a ripe. Buy them early and allow them to ripen in a paper bag. Putting them in with an apple, banana or pear will soften the avocados faster because these fruits give off ethylene gas, which facilitates ripening. Freshly ground cumin has considerably more flavor than already ground cumin, especially if the cumin seeds are toasted. To toast, put the cumin seeds in a heavy skillet over low heat and shake or stir them periodically. After about 5 minutes, or when the seeds become fragrant, let cool, then grind.
You can jazz up my Quick and Easy Chili by using two different kinds of beans (including black beans), corn (frozen is fine), and additional toppings of minced sweet onions and chopped cilantro.
- 2 shallots
- 1 tablespoon pickled jalapeno rings or 1 fresh jalapeno pepper
- 3 tablespoons cilantro leaves
- 1 lime
- 2 ripe avocados
- 3 tablespoons non-fat sour cream
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin (see note)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons commercial or homemade salsa
1)Peel the shallots. If using a fresh jalapeno, stem and remove seeds and membranes. With the motor running, drop the shallots and jalapeno down the chute of a food processor. When minced, scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the cilantro leaves and pulse until chopped.
2)Juice the lime. Remove the flesh from the avocado. Add the avocado, 4 teaspoons of the lime juice, the sour cream, cumin, salt and salsa to the food processor. Puree until smooth. Serves 4 to 6.
Per serving (5 servings average): 149 calories, 2 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrate, 12 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 571 mg sodium.
Roasted Tomato Salsa
- 1 medium red onion
- 3 jalapeno peppers
- 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- 4 large, ripe but still firm tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, or more to taste
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1)Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Peel the onion and cut into 6 wedges. Brush two sheet pans with olive oil. Put the onion, peppers, and garlic (unpeeled) in one pan and the tomatoes in another. Cook the vegetables in the oven until nicely charred and blistered, about 30 minutes once the oven is hot. (This can also be done, and more quickly, in heavy skillets on top of the stove or on an outdoor grill.)
2)Put the jalapeno peppers in a small bowl and cover while you core the tomatoes. (Do not peel.) Peel the garlic. Peel, stem, seed and remove the inside membranes from the peppers.
3)With the motor running, drop the garlic and jalapeno down the chute of a food processor. When minced, scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the cilantro leaves and pulse until chopped.
Add onion, tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until you achieve the texture you desire. Serves 6 to 8.
Per serving: 53 calories, 2 grams protein, 9 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fat, less than 1 gram saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 15 mg sodium.
Quick and Easy Chili
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1-1/2 tablespoons sliced pickled jalapeno peppers or 2 small fresh jalapenos
- 1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef
- 1 medium to large onion, about 8 to 12 ounces
- Three 15-ounce cans red kidney beans or pinto beans
- Two 15-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 1-1/2 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium canned beef stock
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon high quality dried oregano
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese (optional)
1)Put a 12-inch heavy sauté pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Peel the garlic cloves. Drop the garlic and jalapenos down the chute of a food processor with the motor running. (If using a fresh jalapeno, stem and seed first.) Add the beef to the pan, increase the heat to high and stir periodically to break up the clumps. While the beef cooks, peel and quarter the onion. Add to the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.
2)Add the jalapeno, garlic, and onion to the beef. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, open the cans of beans. Put them in a colander, rinse and drain briefly. Open the can of tomatoes.
3)Add the tomatoes, beans, stock, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste to the pan and stir. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, stir, and cook for another 5 minutes. If using the cheese, grate while the chili cooks. Serve the chili in bowls topped with the grated cheese.
Per serving: 512 calories, 34 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrate, 26 grams fat, 10 grams saturated fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 716 mg sodium.