I have a bone to pick with Texas.
Before we moved to the Lone Star State, I formed a few mistaken impressions. I figured everyone would wear a cowboy hat. (False.) I assumed everyone would be overweight. (Also false.) And I feared we’d have to spend our weekends line dancing and attending rodeos. (You get the picture.)
However, one Texas stereotype wound up being entirely true—and it’s my biggest annoyance about living here. Texans, you see, think their state is the best at everything. They’re even good at brainwashing out-of-towners. (Visit the state and I promise you’ll see the “I’m not from Texas but I got here as soon as I could” bumper sticker at least once a day.)
Being a humble Hoosier (with a three-year stint as a Buckeye), I’m not one to scream about state pride. But I know there are a few things the Midwest does better. We’re better drivers. We take better care of our roads. We have four seasons, with traditions for each. (Summer: county fairs and fireworks. Fall: apple orchards and corn mazes. Winter: tree farms and snow ball fights. Spring: open houses—the kind with cake.)
I also contend that at least one town in the Midwest knows how to make a better salsa. (My apologies to Mrs. Renfro.) That town is Troy, Ohio, home of the annual Troy Strawberry Festival. In 2003, visitors got their first taste of the Strawberry “Sweet Heat.” Now you can order by the case.
The ingredient list is simple. Strawberries, tomatoes, onions, jalapeños. Probably a dash of oil, salt, and vinegar too. But I’ve struggled to crack the code.
At least, until now. I don’t have a jar of Sweet Heat on hand to do a side-by-side comparison, but this recipe lives up to all I remember: sweet and slightly sour, with a slow and subtle heat. Strawberries, tomatoes, and jalapeños all vary in their sweetness, acidity, and spice, so some of the measurements will depend on your taste buds. Use the smallest amount first and adjust as necessary. The flavors will develop as the salsa refrigerates, so adjust seasonings the next day, if possible.
Strawberry “Sweet Heat” Copycat Recipe | modified from the Paradise Served cookbook
1 1/2 pints strawberries, hulled and diced
3 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup red onion, minced
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sugar
1-2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2-4 tablespoons lime juice
Salt to taste
Combine strawberries, tomatoes, garlic, onion, and jalapeños in a medium bowl. (If you dread the thought of all that chopping, use your food processor. Just add the tomatoes and strawberries last, so they’re not as finely minced.) Add olive oil and the smallest suggested amounts of sugar, vinegar and lime juice. If possible, refrigerate and allow flavors to develop.
Taste salsa and adjust with sugar (if too sour), vinegar (if way too sweet) or lime juice (if it needs a little more flavor.) Salt will “turn up the volume” on whatever flavor is there, so use a little at the end.