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Salsa Showdown

Take Jessica De Nova’s word for it: Spice isn’t always the stuff of superior salsa.

“I hate it when a salsa zaps your taste buds, and you can’t even taste the food anymore,” says De Nova, a judge in Southern Oregon’s first Salsa Festival and Showdown.

Her favorite salsa, says the local television personality, blends tomatillos, jalapenos, onions and garlic, just like her mom made when De Nova was growing up in Orange County, Calif. Avocados add another shade of green.

“I love avocado … big chunks of it,” says De Nova, reporter and weekend anchor for KTVL-Channel 10.

Tomatoes, chilies, onions and cilantro are expected to inspire contestants at the Salsa Festival and Showdown, planned for Saturday, Sept. 19, in downtown Medford. Celebrating Latino culture, healthy lifestyles and local foods, the inaugural event represents a new direction for the Rogue Valley’s annual Eat Local Week, say organizers.

“I think that anything that can bring those communities together is great,” says Julie Wurth, communications officer for La Clinica, a partner in the event.

Salsa dancing and music will infuse the atmosphere at the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market, which is hosting the salsa competition and supplying all the locally grown ingredients. Contestants must select at least one other ingredient at the market and prepare at least two cups of salsa to enter in one of four categories: mild, hot, inferno and fruit.

“There’s some really awesome pepper options, says Stacy Van Voorhees, manager of the Medford growers markets.

“We made a really delicious peach salsa,” says Van Voorhees of a recent kid-friendly activity at the market. “It’s kind of universal, fun food.”

At stake is $100 in “market bucks” for the creator of the best salsa. The $10 entry fee pays for all the ingredients, as well as chips for sampling salsas. Contestants must furnish their own knives, and blenders or food processors, if needed. Salsas must be prepared from start to finish at the market, held at The Commons, Sixth and Bartlett streets.

“Even if people aren’t competing, it’s just going to be a really amazing, family-friendly event,” says Van Voorhees.

To enter, call Van Voorhees at 541-601-1534 or email stacy@rvgrowersmarket.com. For complete rules, see www.rvgrowersmarket.com/salsashowdown. The deadline to register is 5 p.m. today.

Joining De Nova on the salsa judges panel are representatives of Medford Police Department and Caminos, Southern Oregon’s flagship Spanish-language magazine. The festival, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., caps off 10 days of special activities sponsored by Thrive, the nonprofit business-development group that originated Eat Local Week in 2006.

“It is the finale of Eat Local Week,” says Van Voorhees. “The level of interest in this event has been inspiring.”

Supporting small farms and artisan food producers has been a Thrive focus for more than a decade. Health care has since jumped on the bandwagon to promote diets of fresh, locally produced foods for patients, says Thrive Executive Director Wendy Siporen.

“You’ve seen the CSAs (community-supported agriculture) expand into the hospitals,” says Siporen.

At La Clinica, says Wurth, patients can take gardening classes or obtain coupons to shop at farmers markets. Instruction in cooking and exercise is prominently featured at La Clinica’s new Medford wellness center, says Wurth. Information about the nonprofit care provider’s programs will be available at the festival, she says.

Latin cuisine and specialty foods, such as hot sauces, will be offered for sampling and purchase at the festival, says Van Voorhees. For more information about Eat Local Week events, see www.buylocalrogue.org/eat-local-week.

Fire-Roasted Salsa Verde

1 ½ pounds tomatillos, papery husks removed

12 serrano chilies

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon kosher salt

½ cup minced sweet yellow onion

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 round teaspoon sugar

¾ cup chopped cilantro

3 tablespoons lime juice

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cut the tomatillos in half. Cut the chilies in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Rub chilies with the olive oil, sprinkle with the salt and place on a pan with tomatillos. Put pan under oven broiler and flame until tomatillos and peppers are slightly charred.

Place tomatillos and peppers in a food processor along with the remaining ingredients and pulse until coarsely blended. If more liquid is needed, add a little more lime juice and a bit of olive oil. Season to taste.

Makes 3 cups.

Pico de Gallo

2 teaspoons canola oil

½ cup finely chopped white onion

2 plum tomatoes, cored and diced

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1 small jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon lime juice, plus lime wedges for garnish

2 teaspoons white vinegar

½ cup cilantro, freshly chopped

½ teaspoon sugar

Salt and black pepper, to taste

In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients. Season with the salt and pepper.

Mango-Peach Salsa

1 ½ cups tomatoes, cored and chopped

¾ cup pitted and diced peaches

½ cup diced red onion

½ cup diced yellow bell pepper

½ cup peeled and diced mango

2 tablespoons finely diced jalapeno

1 ½ teaspoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon minced cilantro

Kosher salt, to taste

Tortilla chips, for serving

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, peaches, onion, yellow pepper, mango, jalapeno, lemon juice and cilantro. Stir gently. Add the salt to taste.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve with the tortilla chips.

Makes 12 servings.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from “Peaches” by Kelly Alexander

Peach-Chili Salsa

6 cups peeled, pitted and chopped peaches (from about 6 medium-sized fruit)

½ cup vinegar (5-percent acidity)

1 ¼  cups chopped red onion (about 1 medium)

4 jalapeño chilies, stemmed and finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped

½ cup loosely packed cilantro, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons honey

Wash the peaches, chilies and cilantro under cold, running water; drain. To peel peaches, plunge in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds. Immediately transfer to cold water. Pull off skins. Measure peaches and drop into the vinegar or sprinkle with Fruit-Fresh to prevent darkening. In a large saucepan, combine peaches and vinegar with the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to prevent sticking.

Ladle hot salsa into a clean, hot jar, leaving ½ inch head space at top. Remove air bubbles by stirring with a clean knife. Clean jar rim. Center lid on jar and adjust band to fingertip-tight. Place jar on rack elevated over simmering water (180 F) in a canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.

Lower rack into simmering water; water must cover jars by 1 inch. Adjust heat to medium-high, cover canner and bring water to a rolling boil. Process half-pint jars for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and remove cover. Let jars cool for 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner; do not retighten bands if loose. Cool for 12 hours. Check seals. Label and store.

Makes 8 half-pint jars.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from the “Ball Blue Book” (Hearthmark, $13.95).

Blueberry-Apricot Salsa

3 cups chopped fresh blueberries

1 cup pitted and chopped, fresh apricots

¼ cup lemon juice

½ cup chopped red onion

3 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1/3 cup diced bell pepper

2 minced, seeded jalapeño peppers

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

Ground pepper, to taste

In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with chips, chicken or fish.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

Jessica De Nova will be one of the judges for Southern Oregon’s first Salsa Festival and Showdown. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell