I am the grandchild and great grandchild of European immigrants and was blessed to grow up in a home where Norwegian, German, Scottish and Who-the-Heck-Knows cultures maintained an environment where food was always “different” but amazing and trying something “new” was both the norm and a culinary adventure! After all, in my family luxuries were few and far between and consuming the food placed on your plate was not considered an “optional” activity!
The father of my granddaughter, Tatiana Marie Luz, is half Salvadoran and when she turned two his family hosted a birthday party like nothing I have ever been invited to and/or enjoyed in my life! After all these years in and around America’s military I have had the opportunity to learn an incredible amount about other cultures, their food and their celebrations but this was truly extraordinary!
The large, loving family gathered as the evening wore on and I was amazed to see them play with the children the entire night until almost midnight–musical chairs, dancing, double dutch jump rope…it was amazing! Abuela (Grandma) Luz was there from San Salvador and grown men were right in there with the children of the family! Absolutely no alcohol until after midnight when the children went to bed! The entire focus was on making certain that the children of the family were having the very best time possible and that everyone did all they could to celebrate Tatiana turning two years old!
The women of the household were concentrated in the kitchen and at the grill! I had been asked to bring spareribs for the group and despite major language barriers we managed to communicate very well by pointing, smiling and laughing! While I was making the ribs on the grill, the women were in the kitchen absorbed in making several side dishes with much time chopping and mincing in preparation for the “Chimol.” I couldn’t wait to taste and was literally blown away by the incredibly fresh taste and when I guessed a key ingredient–radishes–I was embraced by the entire kitchen with much hugging and laughter!
Morena, Tatiana’s Aunt, explained that they had been extremely poor when they were children–existing on beans and tortillas–but when she turned 12 she was sent to work in the house of a well-to-do doctor and his family in San Salvador. The doctor’s wife was an avid cook and took her under her wing and taught her to cook with a rich pantry that reflected the family’s affluence. She told me–in limited but elegant English–that Salvadoran food is NOT about heat/hot–it is about “flavor.”
We agreed–I had no Spanish and while their English was far, far better than my “zero” Spanish–that I would teach them to make “American” barbecue ribs and they would teach me to make Salvadoran Chimol!! For the first couple of hours of the party, the women split the processing up between the group with two or three of them taking one of the ingredients and finely slicing and mincing until there was sufficient of each to combine. As just one person, it can prove arduous and lengthy to complete but after a couple of days spent making it alone–I have embraced my friend the food processor for everything but the tomatoes!
Please understand that I say “salsa” but Salvadorans use it as a garden fresh accompaniment for fish, chicken, salads, etc. This is a saucy, fresh “salsa” with none of the ketchup-like thickness of bottled salsas. if you have a glut of garden fresh tomatoes and try no other new recipe this summer–give this one a try! I promise your family will literally demolish it! It is perfect for poolside, waterside, etc. with a couple of bags of tortilla scoop-style chips (to accommodate the recipe’s juiciness)!
In a food processor pulse the following–one at a time–until finely minced:
4 large radishes
1 medium sweet onion (I use Vidalias/Washington Sweets) cut into big chunks before adding to food processor
Scrape radish and onion mixture into a large glass mixing bowl
1 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped–manually
3# of grape or cherry tomatoes–manually cut into 1/8″ dice (Please note that the flavor and texture of the tomatoes will make or break the success of your Chimol–regular supermarket tomatoes will NOT cut it unless they are grape or cherry tomatoes–the sweet/acid freshness of grape/cherry tomatoes have that garden fresh flavor that is CRITICAL to the success of this recipe)
1 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt (I use ONLY “Diamond Crystal” brand)–less if Morton’s–be careful…
1 teaspoon freshly ground coarse black pepper
The juice from 1/2 fresh lime (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional)
Let stand for 30 minutes or more to blend the flavors BEFORE refrigerating.
This is a recipe that will disappear in far less time than it takes to prepare! It’s something that is gobbled up by the youngest to the staunchest of 80 somethings! A real gift of a recipe and now a huge part of our family’s (Tatiana’s extended) summer get-togethers!!