Salsas are the perfect summer food – versatile enough to use a few vegetables on hand in the garden and just as easily paired with a main course for a dinner party as enlivening a burgers-on-the-grill night.

Making a salsa is as easy as finely dicing a few vegetables or fruit, adding a little oil and some acid. The oils can be fruity or herbal or, if you don’t want the oil to compete with other flavors, simple canola will do. While you might think to skip the oil, it works to carry the bright flavors throughout the salsa and to soften and round on your tongue some of the harsher notes of acid. The acid could come from many a place: any freshly squeezed citrus, fresh tomato juice, pineapple or other fruit juice, and most vinegars.

Salsas can be savory or sweet or a combination of the two, depending on what you choose. Start with three main ingredients such as cucumber, scallions and avocado; watermelon, cucumber and mint; or corn, tomato and spinach. Finely dice all ingredients, add a little oil, an acid of your choosing and a pinch or two of salt. Herbs are optional and certainly help to pick up the flavor punch, but aren’t always necessary.

If you do choose herbs, don’t chop them too much. The more herbs are chopped, the more their aromatics are released and only enjoyed in the aroma by the chopper. More coarsely chopped herbs will allow release of flavor while eating.

Stir everything together and wait 10 to 30 minutes. I usually end up adding a little more salt and a bit more acid. The only thing salsas don’t do well is keep, so make what you think you’ll need. A few vegetables do well the second day, such as peppers, onions or cucumbers. The best use I’ve found for leftovers is to combine with mayonnaise for an easy and flavor-packed dip or dressing.

The confetti salad paired with the monkfish is just another name for salsa; everything is finely diced and combined in the same way. I included it so that you could even use greens as a springboard for a creative, light summer dinner. The Maine shrimp cakes are paired with any of the following salsas.


If pairing with the Maine shrimp cakes, omit the dill and replace with cilantro or basil.

2 cups diced cucumber, peeled

2 tablespoons scallions

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh chopped dill or 1/2 teaspoon dried

3/8 teaspoon salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

1 tablespoon capers

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and let sit for up to half an hour.

Makes 2 cups.


1 1/2 cups diced orange pepper, one pepper

1/2 cup diced red onion

1/2 cup seeded and diced tomato

1/2 cup diced avocado

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Serve within one hour.

Makes about 3 cups.


1 avocado, peeled and diced

1 cup frozen corn kernels, defrosted

1 cup diced tomatoes

1/8 teaspoon salt

A few grinds of black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, about 1/2 lime

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients together in a small bowl. Serve within 10 minutes.

Makes 2 to 3 cups.


Both the cilantro and jalapeno are optional in this one. When I left them out, it worked better for my kids’ palates.

1 cup diced papaya

1 diced avocado

1/4 cup minced red pepper

1/2 jalapeno pepper, diced (remove seeds for less heat)

1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon minced red onion

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Serve within one hour.

Makes about 2 cups.


This recipe is one of the few that is easily frozen.

3 cups diced fresh tomatoes

3/4 cup diced white onion

1/2 jalapeno pepper, diced (remove seeds for less heat)

1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/8 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

Place all ingredients into a food processor and pulse several times until the peppers and onions are minced. Refrigerate or serve immediately.

Makes 3 cups.


2 cups minced spinach

2 cups cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced

1 cup finely diced tomatoes, about 1 tomato

2 tablespoons lime juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire

Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.

Makes 4 cups.


If you’ve got hungry people to serve, you could add another half to 1 pound of fish, but the medallions stretch it a bit, and with a hearty side of potatoes or rice, this could be the perfect amount.

1 pound monkfish, trimmed

1 cup flour

Kosher salt to sprinkle

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cut the monkfish into 1/2-inch medallions and gently, with the flat of a tenderizing mallet or other heavy object, flatten into 1/4-inch. Dredge in flour. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. Carefully add the medallions, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and fry for about 2 minutes each side. Serve with lime wedges.

Serves 4.


If you’d like to serve these as an appetizer, simply make smaller balls and reduce the cooking time some.

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

8 ounce Maine shrimp

4 cups cooked jasmine rice

2 teaspoons minced basil

2 teaspoons minced mint

2 teaspoons minced cilantro

2 teaspoons Siraccha or other hot sauce

2 egg whites

1/4 cup finely sliced scallions for garnish

Combine all ingredients except scallions in a medium-sized bowl. Using your hands, scoop enough of the mix to make a 1- to 11/2-inch ball by squeezing and shaping, just as you would meatballs. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add half of the oil. Press the balls into the pan and cook for 4 minutes or until crispy and lightly browned. Flip with a spatula and brown the other side. Be sure to leave space in the pan between each patty so that they have enough heat to brown well.

Repeat until all of the balls/patties are cooked. Serve immediately with any of the above salsas.

Serves 4 to 6.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea,” a recipe book about her experiences cooking aboard the family’s windjammer. She can be reached at: [email protected]


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