My Tribute to Michigan: Cherry Salsa

Some people say that they’ve left their hearts in their hometowns, but with the amount I’ve moved in the last 8 years, I’m starting to feel like Voldemort with his horcruxes. The piece of my heart (or horcrux, or whatever) that represents my time in Michigan is housed firmly in Cherry Republic, Glen Arbor, MI.

The Happiest Place in Michigan

Northern Michigan is orchards and nature as far as the eye can see, and because the orchards had some financial trouble during the 70s, many of them opened wineries to make the fruit into something recession-proof. I found Cherry Republic quite by accident while on a trip to Great Lakes Tea and Spice in Glen Arbor during my honeymoon. Cherry Republic makes anything and everything out of cherries. We were lured into the restaurant/store by the pulled-pork cherry barbecue, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

The product is actually more pink, but hey.

My friend who taught me how to make Tex Mex and salsa and I have been discussing regional foods and specialties for a month now, and it made me homesick for one of my favorite Cherry Republic products: cherry salsa. Since I had found a can of tart Michigan cherries at the import store in the fall, I decided to research cherry salsa and make my own to share with my foodie friends. It was a hit at our movie night, and, per my friends’ request, the recipe is below.

Cherry Salsa

Don’t skip the sugar–it binds the flavors together.

This recipe is labeled “import store” because I used ingredients that I bought at an import store: a bag of dried cilantro and a can of cherries. See the notes for substitutions.

Yields 250 mL by volume or ~1 US Cup

Time
Prep: 30 min (mainly roasting a pepper)
Cooking: 25 min
Cooling: ~1 hour
Setting: overnight

Ingredients

  • 400 g [1.5 cups] pitted tart red cherries, divided (amerikan cherii, アメリカン・チェリー)
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped (murasaki tamanegi,  紫タマネギ; reddo onion, レッド・オニオン)
  • Juice of 1 lime (raimu, ライム)or lemon (remon, レモン), plus extra for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons caster sugar (superfine sugar) (jouhakutou, 上白糖)
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch (kônstaachi, コーンスターチ)
  • 2 Tablespoons reserved cherry juice, if using canned cherries, or water
  • 1 roasted yellow bell pepper, chopped (kiiro piiman, 黄色ピーマン)
  • 2 dried red chili peppers [capsicum annuum] (aka tôgarashi, 赤唐辛子)
  • 2 Tablespoons dried cilantro leaves (kousai, 香菜; shantsuai, シャンツァイ; pakuchii, パクチー; koriandaa, コリアンダー)

Equipment
1 small pot with a lid
A broiler function on your oven or Japanese fish-griller (built into oven range)

Procedure
1. Roast the yellow pepper by setting it under the broiler or into the fish-griller until the skin is blackened and the flesh is softened. Flip over and broil the other side, too. (You may have to cut it in half if you use the fish griller). When the skin on both sides is blackened (about 10-15 minutes total), place in a plastic bag for 10-15 minutes, then remove the skin by peeling it off. When the pepper has cooled, roughly chop and set aside.

2. If using canned cherries, reserve 2 Tbsp. of the juice. Divide pitted cherries: set 1/3 (130 g or 1/2 cup) aside in a bowl. Place the other 2/3 of the cherries into a small pot with a lid.

3. Add chopped red onion, lime or lemon juice, and sugar.

4. With the pot uncovered, bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally.

5. When the mixture boils, reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 10 minutes.

6. Mix the cornstarch with cherry juice or water in a small cup and stir to eliminate lumps.

7. Add this mixture and the other 1/3 of the cherries to the pot. Cook uncovered for 5 minutes.

8. Remove pot from heat and let cool.

9. Add chopped roasted pepper, chopped chili peppers, and cilantro. Squeeze more lime/lemon juice into the salsa, and stir to incorporate.

10.  Place in a glass jar and refrigerate before serving. This is best if let to cool overnight to let the flavors meld. Keeps for about 5-7 days refrigerated.

Serving Suggestions
I just bought a bag of organic corn tortilla chips the size of a small galaxy from Foreign Buyers’ Club, but you could also serve this with chicken, pork, salmon, black beans, or cornbread.

Variations

For a sweeter salsa, increase the sugar to 1 Tablespoon and use only one chili pepper.

Notes
Cilantro: If you live in a place with fresh cilantro (not the sticks in Japan!), used 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves. I got my dried cilantro at the import store, but you can substitute 4-6 Tablespoons fresh flat Italian parsley, chopped, or 2 Tbsp. dried. I hear that mixing parsley with 1/2 teaspoon of mint or coriander is good, but I haven’t tried that yet, so I can’t vouch for it. If you try this and have suggestions, I would love to hear from you!

Cherries: I used tart canned cherries, but I see no reason why fresh “American cherries,” available here in Japan in the summer, wouldn’t work equally as well. Japanese cherries (sakuranbo, サクランボ), lacking a strong flavor, might not fare as well.

Onion: Red onions are not as common here as yellow onions, but I think they add a complexity to the flavor of the salsa that merits hunting them down. My own little grocery next to my apartment actually has these, though they’re a bit more expensive.

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