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

June  9, 2016

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?

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?

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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. Photo 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.

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.

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  • ole possum
    ole possum
  • Alexandra Stafford
    Alexandra Stafford
I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


ole P. June 11, 2016
Alexandra, the Huevos Rancheros with Salsa sounds sooooooooo good! I want to make it for my mother and family. But she HATES cast-iron pans. I'm not allowed to come in the house with one! Is it possible to make this with a regualr non-stick skillet? Is there something in the recipe that might damage a non-stick skillet? Just wondering. I really want to make it because it sounds so much better than my regular poached eggs.

Thanks for your time.

Alexandra S. June 12, 2016
My only worry with a nonstick pan here is the initial part of the recipe: you preheat a skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. I don't know if this step could harm your nonstick pan? Do you have another stainless steel skillet? If you do, that's what I would recommend. Good luck!