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A Salsa to Make When You Can't Wait for Tomatoes (and Huevos Rancheros to Eat it On)

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Central to eating seasonally is the joy of tasting produce at its peak, the reward for waiting patiently for those first tender greens and ears of sweet corn, that first juicy, ripe tomato. Good things come to those who wait.

But what if you’re having trouble waiting? What if months still lie between you and that first tomato and those canned San Marzanos you’ve been using all winter aren’t cutting it anymore? What if even when you dress them up with chipotles and herbs to make, say, salsa roja, they still taste, well, canned? And what if your plate of huevos rancheros made with said salsa roja has left you feeling cold?

Huevos Rancheros with Blistered Tomato Salsa
Huevos Rancheros with Blistered Tomato Salsa

Is it then okay to cheat? Just once? To blister a few pints of pre-season grape tomatoes in a hot cast iron skillet? And to purée them with charred jalapeños and onions, fresh lime juice, and cilantro into a sauce that tastes balanced and bright, and smoky with a fiery bite? And to spread that sauce across tortillas and broil them with eggs and cheese, which might amount to the most satisfying meal you’ve tasted since last summer?

Time will tell if my recent cheating has ruined the moment for that first Cherokee Purple, but I suspect I’ll relish it as much as ever. And in the meantime, I’ll focus on the positive, the discovery that charring subprime tomatoes transforms them—and that this simple salsa roja, which, start to finish, takes 25 minutes, will find delicious purpose for those first and last tomatoes or, if I’m so lucky, a backyard bumper crop of Sweet 100s.

Small acts of transformation—blistered tomatoes are whizzed into salsa; salsa and cheese and eggs slide under the broiler and come out bubbly. Photos by Alexandra Stafford

And with this new knowledge, come September, I now know to make a double—a triple!—batch of blistered salsa roja, which I’ll pack away and date. And come next June, when I crave the taste of summer, I won’t have to cheat to get it.

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Huevos Rancheros with Blistered Tomato Salsa

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Makes 2 to 3 cups salsa

Blistered Tomato Salsa

  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds grape tomatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 jalapeño, stem removed, seeds left intact, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 teaspoon teaspoon whole cumin seeds or ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, stems and all
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus more wedges for serving

For Serving

  • Eggs, however many you wish
  • Tortillas, however many you wish
  • Grated cheese, such as Cheddar or Monterey Jack
  • Sliced scallions, optional

Alexandra Stafford is a writer, photographer, and occasional stationery designer based in upstate New York, where she is writing a cookbook. You can read more of her work on her blog.

We all have an out-of-season pleasure. Name yours (and how you transform them!) in the comments.

Tags: huevos rancheros