Salmon with Avocado Strawberry Salsa

  
So I'm guessing this is not exactly what first comes to mind when you hear the word "salsa." Don't worry, I understand. Up until fairly recently my knowledge of salsa was limited to the contents of what came in a Tostitos jar, in either mild, medium, or hot. When I was younger, I usually opted for the medium and enjoyed it along with tortilla chips every time my family would watch a football game on TV (I hate sports, especially when they're televised, so the salsa and chips were the most interesting part of the game). 

Even after I had started cooking, I didn't give salsa much of a thought until much later, when I was living in Italy. I know, I know -- salsa? in Italy? -- but my first years in Rome I met a group of Mexican friends through my work at Loyola. Lucky for me, they all shared my passion for cooking, and taught me how to make enchiladas verdes, cochinita pibil, and tres leches cake, all of which were completely different from the ragu' and polpette I had been raised on. Mexican quickly became my second favorite cuisine (nothing beats Italian after all,) and before I knew it I was making homemade tortillas and stocking my pantry with ingredients like carne seca and achiote paste. My Mexican friends nicknamed me "Pancha" (the diminutive of Francisca) and I decided if I weren't Italian American, I would totally want to be Mexican. 

My Mexican friends also introduced me to actual salsa, made with sweet tomatoes, spicy peppers, and sharp onions, all neatly diced and flavorful, nothing like the overly sweet, jarred stuff that I had tried in the U.S. On a trip to Mexico City that summer, I tried different varieties of salsa, all fresh and delicious, some of them so spicy they made my eyes water. My friends eventually returned to Mexico -- an unfortunate downside to the expat life -- but I've since continued to make their recipes. My sweet and savory streak this summer (this watermelon and feta salad! these nectarines with burrata!) got me wondering how I could give salsa a twist.

I'm not sure that my Mexican friends would approve of this salsa, as it isn't exactly traditional, but I must say, it's one of the best things I've invented in a while. The sweet strawberries, sharp onion, creamy avocado, and tangy lime make every bite of this salsa sing, and all of it is rounded out with a little honey and basil to keep things interesting -- every bite is different, and a million times better than the jarred salsa from my youth. Here I've served this with salmon to make a light and healthy summer dinner, but this would also be awesome with tortilla chips or over grilled chicken, or just eaten directly out of the bowl with a spoon. If you're not a fan of any of the ingredients I used, there is definitely some wiggle room here -- substitute mango or pineapple for the strawberries, leave out the avocado all together and up the fruit, substitute cilantro for the basil, or use orange juice instead of lime juice. Enjoy everyone! 

SALMON WITH AVOCADO AND STRAWBERRY SALSA

Ingredients:
4 salmon fillets 
Olive oil

1 1/4 cups strawberries, diced
1 avocado, diced
3 tablespoons red onion, chopped
2 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon basil, chopped fine
Juice of the half of one lime
1/2 teaspoon lime zest

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with some aluminum foil and drizzle it with a little olive oil. Place the salmon fillets on the aluminum foil and brush with some more olive oil, then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 or so minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork (the cooking time can vary depending on how thick the fillets are, so just keep checking). 

While the salmon cooks, combine all of the salsa ingredients together in a medium bowl. Taste and add more lime juice or basil if you'd like. Transfer the salmon to 4 individual plates and spoon the salsa over each. Serves 4. 








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