While cooking, listen to this: Chan Chan - Armando Garzon
There is a magical place in Michigan called Traverse City, and it's kind of like the Emerald City of Oz, only instead of everything being green, everything is cherry. There's a huge cherry festival during the summer, when the trees are blooming and the weather isn't truly heinous. Cherries are in everything, and that isn't an exaggeration. With the cherry boom, cherries work their way into anything remotely edible. This is proof that God/Gods/higher powers/divine felines exist, and that they are good.
Both Alyssa and I are from Michigan, but we lived a four hour drive away from Traverse City. While Alyssa's family frequently visited Northern Michigan, I didn't know anything about this cherry festival until my senior year of university. One of my roommates' parents sent us a care package from a store called Cherry Republic. This was no ordinary care package, friends. I swear when she opened it the inside glowed, Indiana Jones style (maybe? I've never seen it, I'm totally guessing that boxes glow in those movies). Inside were chocolate-cherry malt balls the size of golf balls, chocolate-cherry-covered raisins and cherry trail mix.
The holy grail (that's definitely Indiana Jones right? Or maybe Monty Python?) though, was the cherry salsa. Never in my life had I had such a thing, and I'm not proud to admit this but I think I ate the entire jar in two days. We had to get more because I literally ate it all. It wasn't even mine! I felt kind of bad, but I mostly felt happy because my stomach was full of the most divine salsa I had ever eaten. So, not super proud, but also not ashamed whatsoever.
I think about this salsa a lot. I think about food a lot in general, so this should be surprising to no one, but this salsa in particular has stuck with me. Cherry Republic delivers across the country, and they make phenomenal gift baskets by the way, but I think I would go broke if I started ordering from them. So, when I went to the store and saw that cherries were not exorbitantly expensive, I bought a ton and resigned myself to recreate this gift from the cherry gods.
This salsa didn't end up coming out quite like their's, but it's pretty damn good in its own right. It's sweet, spicy and acidic, and it's also really pretty. It looks mighty fine sitting on top of a tortilla chip, which is a pretty good standard to judge food by. Cherry Republic's salsa comes in different levels of heat - I love spicy food, so this recipe is on the spicier side. If you like your salsa on the mild side, there are tweaks down below to give you agency over the heat level.
A note about this recipe: like all homemade salsas and pico, this salsa generates a lot of liquid. Like, a lot - salt and sugar love to extract liquid out of water-based foods, and since literally everything in this salsa is water-based, you'll notice your salsa will be swimming in a purple pool of its own juices. No matter! Simply strain when you're ready to serve, or if it doesn't bother you, totally ignore this advice.
This salsa tastes like summer, and will make you feel pretty fancy for eating fruit on your chips. The longer it sits, the better it tastes, so you can make it days before you need it. Whip this up and serve with some margaritas (keep the fruit theme going with these mango passion fruit ones) and guacamole, and you're on your way to a pretty fantastic summer evening.
Love and meows, Rina
SPICY CHERRY SALSA
Servings: 6-8 | Cook Time: 20 minutes | Category: Snacks, Vegan | Source: inspired by Cherry Republic
3 cups cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 ½ cups tomatoes, large dice
2 medium jalapenos, diced*
¼ of one red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 2-3 limes, depending on preference
Salt and pepper, to taste
Prepare the cherries: after you've pitted and roughly chopped the cherries, put them in a bowl with the sugar. Mix well and let stand for 5 minutes to macerate the cherries a bit.
Prepare the salsa: combine the tomatoes, jalapenos, onion, garlic, lime juice, salt and pepper in a bowl and stir well to combine. Once the cherries are done soaking in the sugar, add them to the salsa bowl and stir well. Cover, and place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. The longer you let it sit, the more the flavors will marinate together.
To serve: you can serve this salsa right from the fridge, or you can let it get to room temperature. Either way, it's delicious. Eat it plain, with chips, with quesadillas, whatever your heart desires
To keep: this salsa keeps extraordinarily well in the fridge, so you can pop it back in there and keep it for up to 1 week.
*Depending on how spicy you want your salsa, either leave the seeds and membranes in or cut them out - leaving them in will give your salsa quite the kick. Either way, do NOT rub your eyes after.