By Dennis Linden
Here’s a versatile salsa recipe with a tropical twist, submitted by one of the newest members of the Melissa’s Sales Team, Lee Crenshaw. And don’t let the short ingredient list fool you; by swapping out the traditional salsa tomato component in favor of papaya, Lee expands the scope of the delicious pairing possibilities that this tasty sauce will complement!
“The recipe was from a chef who I met many years ago at a store event,” recalled Lee. “We became friends and stayed in touch over the years. My family loves this salsa and we enjoy it many different ways. My wife always asks me to make it!”
Like so many popular culinary delights that we take for granted here in the Americas, salsa was invented by those ancient foodies -- the Inca, Aztec and Mayan peoples. All three cultures had been slathering a tomato-based sauce mixed with crushed chile peppers and ground squash seeds on turkey, venison, lobster, and fish for centuries when the Spanish conquers showed up and experienced the tomato for the first time ever. One of them, a guy by the name of Alonso de Molina is credited for naming this condiment “salsa” in 1571. Not very imaginative since the word means “sauce” in Spanish – but that’s all it took to be immortalized! Some people get all the credit!
Lee’s recipe calls for a Tai Nung Papaya, which is about the size of a football with light salmon-colored fruit and an extremely high sugar content. However, there are several choices of papaya in the marketplace seasonally. The large Mexican papaya looks very much like the Tai Nung on the outside, though its fruit is more yellow-orange in color and not as sweet. Double up on the measure if you have to use the smaller Hawaiian or Red Papaya. All are creamy in texture with varying degrees of sweetness. Actually any papaya variety will work for this very tasty salsa as long as the fruit is fully ripe so the sugars have fully developed. Under-ripe fruit can be quite bland. Papayas contain an enzyme called papain that aids digestion. Papain also stimulates appetite, relieves indigestion and heartburn as well as helps the body digest proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Characteristics that might come in handy immediately depending how much habanero pepper that is diced into your version of Lee’s formula!
BTW: Capsaicin is the active component in chile peppers that gives them heat. The capsaicin concentration is highest in the pith and seeds of the pepper; so scraping out the seeds and a little of the interior pith of the pepper makes for a milder salsa. Wear gloves when cutting the habanero. Do not touch eyes or mouth during the process and rinse even gloved hands after working with hot peppers to be sure!
There is really not much to the prep of this salsa. Slice, dice, chop and juice the ingredients into a large bowl. Simple. I will say that the overall flavor definitely improved with an overnight chill in the refrigerator. Though, while still very tasty cold, I preferred bringing this salsa back to room temperature before using as a topping on a main course dish, like fish or chicken. And per Lee’s serving suggestions, I can personally attest that this easy-to-make salsa was, in fact, scrumptiously delish on grilled chicken AND grilled fish AND with salty chips & a cold brew!
While Lee Crenshaw is the newest member of Melissa’s Sales Team, he is certainly not a rookie to the fresh produce industry and, in fact, has been dealing with the company for the last twenty-five years in his role as a buyer for one of our retail grocery accounts in Southern California.
“I’ve been working in the fresh produce industry for the last 29 years and love it. What makes it so interesting is that every day is different,” explained Lee. “The weather, the changing seasons and crops as well as the people are all contributing factors in this business. Meaning, everything has to happen on time and together for every order or shipment to be successful. Though I have been at it for decades now, I still learn something new every day. I also am really enjoying the TEAM atmosphere here at Melissa’s.”
Outside of the office, Lee likes to be on the move – literally. That is, he has a cruising bike for his daily pedals along the shoreline near his beach townhome and a more rugged mountain bike for his “off road” adventures. As empty nesters with two grown daughters, both now living and/or attending college of state, Lee and his wife Patrice are enjoying the quietude of a 1-kitten household while planning for their other passion, traveling.
"My produce career has allowed us to travel to many places over the years that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Lee. “We’ve been to 16 different countries and 30 states. I really enjoyed Italy, The Netherlands, and Australia. I liked Australia so much that we moved there for 4 years! That was a great experience -- to live with and learn from many other cultures. It was a learning experience both professionally and personally.”
The entire Melissa’s staff welcomes Lee to the team. He brings years of experience that will only help us all provide the continued outstanding quality, extensive knowledge and excellent service to our grower-partners and customers. He also comes with a large bowl of salsa that isn’t half bad either--perfect for the next company potluck! Thanks for the submission, Lee!
1 medium Tai Nung Papaya, peeled, seeded, small diced
1 large Red Bell Pepper, small diced
1 medium Red Onion, chopped
1 bunch Cilantro, stems removed, fine chopped leaves
2 Limes, juiced
Habanero Pepper, small diced
Mise en place - prepare each component separately.
Combine all ingredients, except the hot pepper, in a bowl. Then add as much of the habanero, with or without seeds, as you like, depending on your desired heat level preference. It is best to add the pepper in small increments to avoid “over-heating”.
Serving options:Enjoy this salsa warm, chilled or at room temperature. It’s a wonderful topping for grilled chicken or fish. It is also excellent simply paired with salted chips and a cold cerveza!