HOT STUFF Fire up your imagination: Add zip to meatloaf, a little bite to pasta and sizzle to steaks with salsa.


Bored with that burger? Need a spicy low-fat salad dressing? Want a livelier meatloaf or a bolder pizza topping? Reach for the salsa: It's not just for tortilla chips any more.

Even chefs and caterers who don't specialize in Southwestern cuisine are using it in new and unexpected ways that the home cook can easily try.

"It's one of the most spectacular condiments to come our way," )) says Sascha Wolhandler, owner of Sascha's Catering. "We use it in a ton of things. You get the best bang for your dollar, because it's low in fat and high in flavor."

Make your own, or pop open a jar. A salsa is a sauce -- typically an uncooked red sauce -- not to be feared, says Donna Crivello, of Donna's. All you need are tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, onion, balsamic vinegar, lime juice, fresh cilantro or basil and salt to taste. Or make a sweet salsa using mangoes, plums or peaches in place of the tomato, Crivello suggests.

Crivello shuns salsa in a jar, but Wolhandler confesses to using it at home occasionally for a quick quesadilla. Some of the ready-made versions are pretty good, Wolhandler says, and she perks them up with a touch of fresh lime juice or cilantro. She relies on salsa for a satisfying yet low-fat lunch, removing the center (and a lot of the calories) from a French roll, then filling it with salsa plus a few slices of turkey, lettuce, tomato and cucumber.

Fellow caterer Nona Nielsen Parker, owner of the GlasZ Gourmet, uses salsa like chutney. After all, a chutney is just a salsa that's been cooked, she says. Fruity salsas, like the GlasZ's pineapple and black bean salsa, taste great underneath, alongside or on top of anything grilled, she says.

You'll have to comb health food and gourmet stores for jars of more exotic salsa flavors, like salsa verde (a green salsa made with tomatilloes). Eddie's of Roland Park stocks a mango salsa, and Fresh Fields stocks a peach version (all great with fish, chicken, duck or pork tenderloin).

Southwest Spirit Gourmet Sauces, based in Annapolis, makes seven varieties of salsas -- including a mild one made with tomatilloes and lime and a fiery one made with chipotle peppers. They're easy to find in Annapolis groceries, or call owner Cynthia Fowler at 410-268-2993 for a shipment to Baltimore.

Americans still use four times as much ketchup as salsa, according to the NPD Group Inc. a Chicago-based consumer research firm. But salsa use has tripled since 1990, and it's still growing. Try flavoring your next meatloaf with salsa and chili powder, and see why.

This recipe is adapted from "Quick and Easy Recipe Ideas" from Southwest Spirit Gourmet Sauces.

Spicy fish fillets

Serves 4

2 pounds fish fillets, such as orange roughy, bass or trout

1 1/2 cups salsa verde, such as Southwest Spirit's Margarita Party Salsa

2 tablespoons dry vermouth or water

Lay fish fillets in a large microwavable baking dish. Top each fillet with a layer of salsa verde. Pour dry vermouth or water in the dish and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, turning the dish a quarter turn twice. Test for doneness (if fish flakes, it's done). Remove from pan and top with another dollop of salsa.

The following recipe is adapted from "From Simple to Special, Uncle Ben's Makes the Meal."

Cuban black bean and rice salad

Serves 5

1 cup rice

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1 pound medium or large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup salsa

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 16-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

6 green onions with tops, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces

1 1.4-ounce can diced green chilies

lime juice to taste

torn spinach leaves

1 orange, cut into wedges

Cook rice (it should give you 4 cups) with 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon salt; refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Saute shrimp and garlic in oil until they are pink. Drain, chill at least 2 hours.

Combine mayonnaise, salsa, 1/4 cup cilantro, salt and pepper in large bowl. Stir in rice, shrimp, beans, green onions, chilies and lime juice. Chill. To serve, line bowl or platter with spinach leaves, mound salad on top, and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cilantro. Garnish with orange wedges.

The following two recipes are adapted from "100% Pleasure: The Lowfat Cookbook for People Who Love to Eat" (Rodale Press) by TTC Columbia residents Nancy Baggett and Ruth Glick.

Chicken skillet dinner ole

Serves 2

1/2 pound cubed chicken breast

1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil

1/2 cup each, chopped onion, bell pepper, red pepper and celery

2/3 cup salsa

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 16-ounce can black beans, drained

In large skillet, saute chicken in oil until no longer pink. Add vegetables, and saute until crisp/tender. Combine salsa with spices and black beans. Stir into chicken and vegetable mixture. Serve over cooked rice.

Salsa salad dressing

Makes 1 3/4 cups

1/2 cup salsa

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon mild honey

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 cup reduced fat or fat-free sour cream

Combine all ingredients. Puree if desired to thin consistency.

The dressing is great tossed with a salad of lettuce, broccoli florets, zucchini and yellow pepper slices.

The following recipe is adapted from "Chi-Chi's Restaurant Style Mexican at Home."

Chicken with tomato mango relish

Makes 4 servings

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup salsa


1 large mango, peeled, pitted and cut into 3/4 -inch chunks (or use 1 cup drained canned pineapple chunks)

1 large tomato, cut into chunks

3 tablespoons sliced green onions

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel

Place chicken and salsa in a large plastic food bag and seal. Turn several times to coat. Refrigerate 2 hours, turning bag occasionally.

In large bowl, combine all ingredients for tomato mango relish and mix well, set aside. Heat broiler or grill. Remove chicken from bag, reserving marinade. Broil or grill the chicken 6 to 8 minutes on each side or until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, basting occasionally with reserved salsa marinade. Top the chicken with tomato mango relish.

Salsa times 12

Top a baked potato or macaroni and cheese.

Use instead of mustard or mayo.

Marinate chicken, pork or steak.

L Toss with grilled, steamed or sauteed vegetables or a salad.

Replace canned tomatoes in soups, stews or chili.

Mix with sour cream for a dip.

Blend with filling for deviled eggs.

Blend with rice, tabbouleh or couscous.

Mix with corn and black beans to create a chilled salad or relish.

Fill a calzone, or top focaccia.

Blend with cream cheese and grated Cheddar to create a cheese spread.

Toss with pasta or spaghetti squash.

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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