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Turning up the heat

Eat-local advocates are turning up the heat on the second annual Salsa Festival & Showdown scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 17.

Contestants will double the quantities of salsa they prepare for the competition, providing enough samples for festival-goers and a “people’s choice” vote.

Larger crowds are expected in downtown Medford for live music, salsa dancing, cooking demonstrations and food vendors, which this year will occur Saturday evening instead of earlier in the day. The fete of Latino culture is a highlight of the Eat Local Celebration, founded a dozen years ago by Thrive. Admission is free.

“This festival combines everything we're trying to accomplish with the Eat Local Celebration,” says Thrive Executive Director Wendy Siporen of the two-week event that commences Friday and ends Sept. 25.

Thrive and Medford Food Co-op are presenting the Salsa Festival in partnership with Caminos Magazine, La Clinica and Jackson Care Connect. The collaboration represents the eat-local movement’s inroads with health care providers, who increasingly prescribe diets of fresh, locally produced foods for patients, says Siporen.

“Locally grown food and fun physical activity are the key ingredients to a healthy and thriving community.”

Key to the salsa competition is a rich assortment of locally grown tomatoes, chilies, onions, corn, even fruit. The contest is open to 10 cooks, who will select ingredients from the Co-op and prepare their salsas at the festival, from 4 to 9 p.m. on The Commons at Sixth and Bartlett streets. The entry fee of $15 covers the cost of participants’ shopping trip. A $100 Co-op gift certificate is the prize for best salsa. See www.medfordfood.coop for complete rules and registration.

“It has to be a fresh salsa,” says Halle Riddlebarger, marketing manager for Medford Food Co-op. “No cooking or heating.”

Exceptions to the all-local ingredient rule are salt and spices, such as black pepper, cumin or other flavors common to salsa. Otherwise, eligible foodstuffs will be indicators of the region’s weather and what farmers can harvest, says Riddlebarger. The deadline to register is Monday, Sept. 12.

“People can’t be too set in their recipes,” she says. “They’ve got to be kind of adaptable.”

Adapting the classic concept of salsa takes the sauce beyond tortilla-chip dipper. Spicy or mild, chunky or smooth, salsa is a versatile, seasonal accompaniment to grilled meats and vegetables.

Traditionally consumed with lobster, fish, turkey and venison, the salsas of Mayans, Aztecs and Incas incorporated squash seeds, chilies, tomatoes and tomatillos. This mixture became known by the Spanish word for “sauce” in 1571, following the arrival of European explorers and colonizers to the American continents. More than 400 years later, salsa eclipsed ketchup as America’s favorite condiment.

The most popular salsa remains salsa rojo, a fresh sauce made with tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions. Swap tomatillos for red tomatoes and add a little lime juice and cilantro for a typical salsa verde.

Anything but typical, these salsas with grapes, nuts, olives and citrus zest can be spooned onto crusty bread with cheese or your favorite taco filling.

Charred Corn and Avocado Salsa

2 ears corn, shucked

2 cups peeled and diced avocado

Juice from 1 lime

2 tablespoons minced cilantro

2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon olive oil

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Over a high flame on an outdoor grill, char the ears of corn until lightly blackened, for about 4 minutes per side. Cut corn kernels away from cob using a sharp knife and plenty of caution.

In a medium bowl, combine corn with the avocado, lime juice, cilantro, scallions and olive oil.

Add the sea salt and black pepper to taste. Set aside until ready to serve.

— Recipe from The Daily Meal

Castelvetrano Olive-Almond Salsa

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup coarsely chopped, pitted Castelvetrano olives or any mild, green olives

½ cup coarsely chopped, toasted, slivered almonds

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

1 teaspoon chopped, fresh oregano

1 teaspoon crushed chipotle chili flakes or chipotle powder

¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

In a small bowl, combine the oil, olives, almonds, lemon juice, orange zest, oregano, chipotle and salt. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Let sit at room temperature for up to 1 hour before serving.

Salsa may be made up to 1 day ahead, but leave out chopped almonds until just before serving to preserve their crunch.

Serve with grilled vegetables.

— Recipe from “Around the Fire” by Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez Denton (Ten Speed Press; March 2016; $32.50)

Grape Salsa

2 cups seedless grapes, quartered or halved

½ red onion, peeled and diced

3 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley

2 tablespoons lime (or lemon) juice

1 teaspoon chopped, fresh oregano

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

Dash of ground cayenne pepper (optional)

½ cup cherry tomatoes, quartered or halved

In a medium bowl, gently toss together the grapes, onion, parsley, lime juice and oregano. Add the salt, pepper, vinegar and cayenne pepper; make adjustments as needed. Add the tomatoes just before serving.

Spicy Peach Salsa

4 ripe peaches, pitted and diced

½ teaspoon peeled and minced, fresh ginger

2 Thai chilies, stemmed and diced

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, or more to taste, plus a little zest

½ to 1/3 cup chopped cilantro

¼ cup peeled and chopped red onion

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

Generous pinches of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In small bowl, combine the peaches, ginger, chilies, lime juice, cilantro, red onion and garlic. Mix well.

Add the salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Let sit at room temperature for up to 1 hour before serving.

— Recipe from “The Love & Lemons Cookbook: An Apple-to-Zucchini Celebration of Impromptu Cooking” by Jeanine Donofrio (Avery, March 2016, $35).

Grilled Pineapple Salsa

1 medium pineapple, stem and peel removed

1 tablespoon oil

¼ cup peeled and finely chopped red onion

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

Prepare grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat.

Cut the pineapple crosswise into six ½-inch-thick slices (don’t cut out core.) Brush pineapple slices on both sides with the oil.

Cook pineapple slices on grill over direct, medium-high heat, with lid closed, until lightly charred and softened, for 5 to 8 minutes, turning once. Remove from grill, cut out and discard cores. Alternatively, char fruit on a cast-iron grill pan on stovetop.

Coarsely chop pineapple and place in a medium bowl. Add the onion, lime juice, cilantro, salt and cumin to pineapple and stir until evenly combined.

— Recipe from “Weber’s New American Barbecue: A Modern Spin on the Classics” by Jamie Purviance (Houghton Mifflin Harcout; May 3, 2016; $24.99).

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

Peach Salsa. Gretchen McKay /Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Charred Corn and Avocado Salsa. Gretchen McKay / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette