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Salsa contest flavors farmers market

POSTED AT 10:52 PM ON Aug. 26, 2012  (UPDATED AT 12:14 AM ON Aug. 27, 2012)

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Event sponsors turned off the salsa music drifting through the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market Saturday morning to start the 24th annual salsa contest.

As many as 20 salsas could be entered in each of the three categories: tomato-based raw, tomato-based cooked and specialty.

“I think the pioneers came here, found Nick’s (English Hut), the farmers market and salsa and decided to build a town here,” Emcee Steve Krahnke said.

Judges tasted contestants’ salsas under a yellow and white-striped tent while Gregg “Rags” Rago of Nick’s gave the crowd a salsa-making demonstration. Judges rated salsas’ aroma, texture, appearance and flavor.

While Rago chopped various vegetables, he gave shout-outs to his favorite farmers market booths from which to buy his ingredients.

“Cilantro has been hard to come by this year because it’s been so hot,” Rago said. “You really gotta support the farmers this time of year.”

The only ingredient he couldn’t find locally was limes.

“If you happen to have a lime tree in your yard, please let us know,” Krahnke said.

Decked out in a black apron patterned with red, yellow, orange and green peppers, Rago worked to make a batch of traditional salsa — tomatoes, limes, onions, garlic, hot peppers, salt and cilantro — in front of the crowd.

He demonstrated how to properly cut a tomato, slicing it horizontally before dicing each circular piece. He let the tomatoes drain in a sieve while chopping onions, cutting the top and bottom off, then slicing the remaining part in half and fanning it.

While Rago demonstrated, farmers market attendees sampled salsa from each of the contestants, circling booths and trying each entry with tortilla chips.

The winning cooked salsa, which judges called “perfection on a chip” and “fresh, complex and feisty”, had no name.

IU chemistry graduate student Alice Hui and chemistry lab worker Aulaire Schmitz claimed their prize in their first-ever salsa contest entry.

Schmitz and Hui entered their salsa in the cooked category because they used roasted peppers and poblanos. The two started making salsa about a year ago after their garden produced an abundance of tomatoes.

They started throwing things together in a blender to make salsa and found a recipe that stuck.

“We wrote it down last year so we would remember it,” Schmitz said.

They claimed a prize bag filled with a wooden cutting board, cloth grocery bags and several gift certificates to local restaurants and food stores. The two said they still plan to play around with different ingredient combinations.

“Of course we like experimenting,” Hui said. “We’re chemists.”

 

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