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Which salsa took home the prize at the Princeton Public Library's Salsa Slam?

The colorful selection of salsas
The colorful selection of salsas
Sue Gordon

Wednesday night at the Princeton Public Library, salsa was the center of attention at the 3rd annual Salsa Slam. 10 local restaurants and businesses competed for top honors in two categories – Judges’ Choice and People’s Choice. The participants were
Agricola
Masala Grill
Nassau Inn Catering
Olives
Princeton Soup and Sandwich Shop
Savory Spice Shop
Terra Learning Kitchen at the Princeton YMCA
Tortuga's Mexican Village
Yankee Doodle Tap Room
Winberies

This week the Princeton Public Library hosted its annual Salsa Slam
Sue Gordon

The judges for the competition were food writer Pat Tanner Dine With Pat, Princeton Food Examiner Sue Gordon (that’s me!), Gab Carbone from The Bent Spoon, which was recently named one of the best ice cream shops in America by Travel and Leisure magazine and Princeton Mayor Liz Lampert.

The salsas were rated in the categories of taste, creativity and technique.

There was a cross section of many different types of salsa. There were traditional tomato-based ones, including a (really) spicy one from the Princeton Soup and Sandwich Shop, featuring habañero peppers. Some salsas had fruit – peaches were in the salsa from Nassau Inn Catering and there was an unusual cherry and chipotle salsa from Savory Spice Shop.

In the end, the judges selected the cooling and pretty Tomatillo And Avocado Salsa Verde as the winner. The winning salsa was the creation of Yomara Alix Del Cid from the Terra Learning Kitchen in the Princeton YMCA. Along with its two main ingredients, it featured jalapeño, cilantro and mint. Olives was the first runner up with an excellently balanced salsa that had a wonderful zing to it. The judges gave Agricola third place for its interesting and tasty kimchi salsa.

The People’s Choice award went to Tortuga Mexican Village for its “Secret Family Recipe Salsa”, so, of course, you’ll have to go there to give it a taste.

Interestingly, Olives came in second with the public as well. Masala Grill took third place with its mango and tomato salsa.

As the Salsa Slam showed, there are as many variations of salsa as there are cooks who prepare it, so what is it exactly? It can be many things…all at once. It’s a sauce, a garnish, a topping, a marinade and/or a side dish.

The most well-known salsa is probably pico do gallo, which is a fresh tomato salsa made from uncooked ingredients. Salsa verde is made from tomatillos, which are sometimes cooked and sometimes not. In Spain or Italy, a salsa verde is made from herbs.

What all salsas have in common is that they are a vibrant combination of ingredients - fresh or sometimes cooked vegetables and fruit with spices, herbs, sour, and sometimes sweet, components. Salsa can be crunchy, tangy, zesty, and downright hot. Another element of many salsas (although not all) is that they are often chopped finely. In fact, salsa making is a good place to practice dicing skills.

As we judged the salsas on Wednesday night, we looked for various things. How did the salsa look? Was it appetizing and pretty? Were the ingredients nicely chopped or evenly puréed?

Most importantly, how did the salsa taste? Did it taste balanced between salty and sour and maybe sweet? Interestingly, in all three Salsa Slams, the judges and the public have disagreed. We may have been close, but each group picked a different winner. It just goes to show, there’s a salsa to fit every taste.