Your Lenten fish can be a lot more interesting with a bit of salsa

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Lemon wedges are overrated. Well, not true for iced tea maybe, but definitely as the boring, inevitable garnish for fish. Picture a plate of, say, filet of sole set before you. What that slab of cooked white fish needs is not a spritz of invisible ink but a tongue-tingling, eye-popping bit of pizazz.

Our top restaurants know the drill. When they serve fish, they gussy up dishes with easy-to-make, healthful, intensely flavored mixtures of fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and chiles for a bit of excitement and textural interest.

Lately I've made a handful of fish-friendly salsas. Besides bringing great taste to the table, they are pretty much fat-free no-brainers to make. Most require no more than chopping and mixing. They keep well when refrigerated. Because there are no rules to follow, try our recipes or substitute what you find in your fridge or what looks fresh at the market.

If all those flavors are just too much excitement for you, stick with old-fashioned, but always good, stewed tomatoes.

* Stewed Tomatoes One: In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add 2 stalks of celery, chopped, and a half a medium onion, chopped, and 1/2 cup water. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until water has evaporated and celery is tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add 2 pints of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, and cook until they are soft and juicy. Stir in chopped fresh basil or parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Serves about 4.

* Stewed Tomatoes Two: Saute 1 small onion, chopped, and 1 clove garlic, chopped, in a tablespoon of olive oil. When soft, add the contents of a can of stewed or diced tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add a little chopped fresh rosemary. Mixture should be thick, almost saucy. Serves about 2. Tonight, use as a sauce for sauteed perch filets. Tomorrow morning, use leftovers to top a fried egg.

All of the recipes are from a wonderful little book, "Salsas, Sambals, Chutneys & Chowchows" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby. The 1993 book was inspired by the pickles, jams and "put-up" vegetables made by their grandmothers. Those small relishes are chock-full of big flavors. The book still is available from online sellers.

Black bean and Papaya Salsa

Color contrasts look great on the plate. Substitute pineapple or mango for the papaya if you like. If someone in the family doesn't care for cumin, leave it out. Serve with grilled fish. It can also stand on its own as a side-dish salad or scooped up with chips as a snack.

1 cup cooked or canned black beans

2 ripe papayas, peeled, seeded and diced small

1/2 red bell pepper, diced small

1/2 green bell pepper, diced small

1/2 red onion, diced small

3/4 cup pineapple juice

1/2 cup lime juice (from about 4 limes)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon minced red or green chile pepper

Salt and pepper

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix together well. This salsa will keep, covered and refrigerated, 4 to 5 days.

Makes about 5 cups.

-- "Salsas, Sambals, Chutneys & Chowchows" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (Morrow, 1995)

Avocado and Corn Salsa

This has a decidedly Mexican feel to it. Out of season, use canned or frozen corn. This salsa is really good with grilled shrimp or other seafood.

3 ears corn, husked and de-silked, about 2 cups kernels

3 ripe but firm avocados, peeled, pitted and diced large

1 red onion, diced small

1 red bell pepper, diced small

1/3 cup virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon minced garlic

4 to 8 shots hot pepper sauce

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano

1/2 cup lime juice (from about 4 limes)

Salt and pepper

Blanch corn in boiling water for 3 minutes, drain and cool under cold water. Cut the kernels off the cobs and mix together with all the remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. This salsa will keep, covered and refrigerated, about 2 or 3 days.

Makes about 5 cups.

-- "Salsas, Sambals, Chutneys & Chowchows" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (Morrow, 1995)

Pineapple Salsa

You can substitute any fruit you have around, from peaches to mangoes to papayas. This salsa is particularly good with sauteed or grilled scallops.

1 whole pineapple, cored and cut into small wedges

1 small red, orange or yellow pepper, sliced into short, thin slices

1 small red onion, sliced into long, thin slices

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 medium clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup pineapple juice

6 tablespoons lime juice (from about 3 limes)

1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together well. This salsa will keep, covered and refrigerated, 3 or 4 days.

Makes about 3 cups.

-- "Salsas, Sambals, Chutneys & Chowchows" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (Morrow, 1995)

Mango Jicama Salsa

You will have the best texture if, when grating the jicama and the carrot, you drag them slowly along the grater so they come out in longish strips instead of little chips. Try this salsa with heavier-flavored grilled fish, such as tuna, bluefish or mackerel.

1 jicama the size of a softball, peeled and finely grated

1 carrot, peeled and finely grated

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

2 ripe mangoes, peeled and diced small

2 cups mango juice (or use pineapple juice)

1/4 cup minced garlic

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

8 scallions, top and bottom 1/2-inch trimmed off, then thinly sliced

2 tablespoons ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground cumin

2 fresh jalapeno or habanero peppers, split, seeded and minced (or very hot pepper sauce to taste)

1/2 cup lime juice (from about 4 limes)

Salt and pepper

In a medium-sized bowl, mix all the ingredients together well. This relish will keep, covered and refrigerated, 4 to 6 days.

Makes about 6 cups.

-- "Salsas, Sambals, Chutneys & Chowchows" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (Morrow, 1995)

Recipes tested by Marlene Parrish.


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