M has been on a spicy pepper kick recently, so we decided to find an outlet for the habanero peppers he acquired last week. After some online sleuthing, we found the perfect low-stress recipe: Xnipec (prounced shnee-peck) is a spicy tomato-habanero salsa originating from the Yucatan. Given the mild flavors of most cuisine from the region, one may be surprised at how popular the incredibly spicy habanero pepper is there. But the habanero gives more than just heat – it has a nice citrus, sweet, tropical flavor that goes great with chicken, fish, steak, salsas, or most anything else. This recipe takes the much recommended caution of delicately removing the habanero seed pods and interior white vein to remove most of the heat. For spicier salsa, use greener, less-ripened habaneros. Fully ripened orange ones are fruitier, but more mild. Here’s the recipe, courtesy of the culinary wizardry of Rick Bayless:
Ingredients (Makes 2 cups):
1 small red onion
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
10 ounces ripe tomatoes
1/2 whole habanero chile – or more (we used 1 whole)
12 large fresh cilantro sprigs
1/2 teaspoon salt
Chop the onion very finely, using a knife (don’t use a food processor), and scoop it into a strainer; rinse under cold water. Shake as much of the water off as possible, then transfer to a small bowl and stir in the juice. Set aside.
Core the tomatoes, then cut in half crosswise; squeeze out the seeds. Finely dice the tomatoes (about 1/4 inch cubes). Scoop into a bowl.
Slice the radishes 1/16-inch thick, then chop into matchsticks or small dice. Add to the tomatoes.
Punt on a pair of rubber gloves. Carefully cut out and discard the habanero’s seed pod, then mince the flesh into tiny bits and add to the tomatoes.
Bunch up the cilantro sprigs, and, with a very sharp knife, slice them 1/16-inch thick, stems and all, working from the leafy end toward the stems.
Combine radishes, chile, and chopped cilantro with the tomato mixture; stir in the onion and juice mixture. Taste and season with salt.
The Eaters used both red and yellow tomatoes, and bumped up the amount of habanero. Don’t be nervous about doing that – with a discarded seed pod and vein, habaneros have just the right amount of spice to let their tropical flavors shine through. Our main concern with this dish was the amount of onions, but rinsing them under water for a minute or so takes off most of the onion flavor and allows them to absorb the habanero, cilantro, and lime juice. Same with the radishes.
All in all, we thought this was great. It is quick, cheap, easy, comes out very colorful and fresh, and goes great with just about anything. We originally ate it alone as a salsa with some tortillas, and used another batch over grilled chile-rubbed chicken on a bed of rice. Great there too. We will definitely be making more of it.