Salsa Sunday at North Haven Gardens was a hit!
I had the pleasure of tasting and evaluating more than 20 delicious entries in the North Haven Gardens salsa contest yesterday, along with fellow judges Eddie G. of Dallas Vegan, Jeffrey Kowitz of Taco Joint and the lovely Miranda Martinez, actress and Bliss Raw Cafe representative. What a spicy day!
The vegetable garden
Before we got down to the serious business at hand, North Haven's own Nikki Crain gave us judges a tour of the gorgeous grounds. My favorite stop was a peek inside the veggie garden, just about to explode with fresh tomatoes, peppers, herbs and flowers.
Me and Nikki
Here's a shot of me and Nikki on a sweet foot bridge over a patch of colorful Swiss Chard. North Haven Gardens is overflowing with happy, thriving plants. Perhaps they can tell me when to expect my own little harvest?
After the tour, it was time to taste. We set to sampling the salsas in question, taking turns around the table to dip and discuss our reactions. Entries ranged from familiar, Tex-Mex restaurant-style chip dips to Italian-style salsas to downright head-scratchers (Crab meat? In a salsa?). But as it turned out, some of the judges' faves were in this unexpected category. A Pina Colada Salsa, for instance, featuring pineapple, coconut chips and a surprising kick of spice, was quite popular with our selective crowd.
Eddie, judging away
My picks tended toward those salsas with a blended texture (as opposed to pico-style), concentrated tomato flavor (often found in canned tomatoes rather than fresh) and a good kick. Kowitz, known for his own kick-butt cooking, had more specific criteria, and his knowledge of peppers and cooking styles gave us all some interesting insight. As the contest progressed, however, it became more and more difficult to converse, what with all the running noses and water breaks!
The winners' circle
Finally, our points were tallied and Nikki announced the winners: John Romero took 1st Place honors with his Berta's Best Salsa, a traditional tomato salsa with a moderate heat level and lots of fresh cilantro. 2nd and 3rd Place both went to Carol Castillo, a salsa-whiz who entered five different recipes altogether. Her Pineapple-Mango and Jalepeno Salsas were both a little different and a lot delicious. All the winning recipes will be up on the North Haven Gardens website by the end of the week.
Whether to stock your own salsa garden or just wander and wonder at all the amazing growing things, I highly recommend North Haven Gardens for anyone with a thumb (green or otherwise). There's also a great gift shop and reading area and lots of events and education. Happy gardening!