Dysfunctional Family Recipe Salsa

I wish I could say I had a bevy of amazing family recipes from which I draw daily inspiration. I have this little fantasy of unlocking some keepsake mahogany box overflowing with wholesome recipes lovingly written in my grandma’s curling script…but it’s not like that. (I’m sure if either of my grandmas had such a box, they would have given it to me–they are/were both lovely women. They just weren’t/aren’t that into recipe development, and I didn’t grow up seeing one of them very much.) In reality, I have four family recipes: two for pie, one for cornbread casserole, and this one for salsa. They’re all very good, despite their limited number.

I call this my Dysfunctional Family Recipe for the simple reason that its originator is no longer a member of my family….and, just for fun, I’ll throw in the juicy detail that this person is also in prison. (It’s not one of my grandmothers, just to make that clear.) But this person made an incredible salsa that was the toast of many a family gathering–so hey, it’s not a total loss. (I think?) Somehow I had the foresight to write this recipe down before the non-family-member was carted off to the slammer. Recently, as I was going through my own recipe keeper–contemplating whether or not to get a new one after my kids ripped the cover off–I came across it at the very back of the Appetizers folder. It had been at least nine years since I’d eaten this dish that had once been such a looked-forward-to staple. Part of me didn’t want to make it. Like music, food has the power to bring back so many memories, and I wasn’t sure I wanted memories of this person resurfacing in a bowl of blended Mexican deliciousness.

Then I had an idea: what if I could turn it around, make this recipe my own? It’s so ridiculously good that other people should be able to enjoy it. What if I could bring it to potlucks and picnics and neighborhood get-togethers to the delight of friends and family? It could be my recipe, not his. I’m not saying I came up with the ingredients; I just get to make it and share it. I mean, I doubt this person has access to a food processor where he is, so it’s not like he’s making it anymore. It’s weirdly empowering to claim something good from a really, really, (really) bad relationship. For my spirit and my taste buds, I’m glad to do so.

So tell me, do you have family recipes? Do you still call them that if the recipe writer is no longer family?

Dysfunctional Family Recipe Salsa


3 medium-to-large tomatoes off the vine, chopped
3 Tbsp. chopped onion
1 medium jalapeño, seeded and chopped
4 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar


Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until desired consistency is reached. Gently strain through cheesecloth to remove excess liquid.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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