"You know, cooking ... I struggle with this issue of what to bring to potlucks: I typically settle on beer, but it’s a much better show if you arrive with homemade food instead of a six-pack you got on sale at Foodland."
This is the sort of sage advice I’ve grown to depend on from Eric Denton. Though neither of us remembers it terribly well, rumor has it we first met on his twenty-first birthday. In the fifteen or so years since, he’s taught me most of the things I consider worth remembering, along with a few things I should probably forget (the Hungarian swearing, for instance). A faculty member at Kapiolani Community College and former lead singer of a largely unknown Honolulu art-rock band, he’s got an innate ability to stand out in a crowd. It’s a quality that makes him a good sounding board for whatever my current theory is on why natural selection favors some people over others. Lately, it’s had to do with condiments and ... well, some conversations are better served unfiltered:
Me: You know, I think men would greatly improve their chances of attracting a mate if they’d just bring anything other than chips and salsa to parties. I guarantee you: twenty bachelors, twenty tubs of salsa on the table ... How’re they going to rise above the competition?
Him: Let me tell you something about salsa.
By all means...
My ex-wife Michelle* is a sailor. We’d occasionally go out on day cruises, where everyone would cook something for the yachting adventure. She had a papaya salsa that was unquestionably the hit every single time.
You can’t screw it up?
Well, I guess I should say it’s a ninety percent chance of hitting it. You soak habañero peppers in olive oil, and that brings out their heat. If you put too many peppers in the oil, or leave them in too long, or put too much oil on the salsa, then it can be unbearable. But that’s part of the attraction: Even though it can be killer hot, the papaya gives it a light fruity feeling.
Unbearable yet edible?
It can be a display of manly fortitude: ‘You don’t like hot food? I like it hot, hot, hot!’ You can show your machismo.
And yet there’s fruit...
Yes, it’s a sweet machismo.
2 large, ripe papayas
1 lime, squozen†
Sea salt (to taste)
2-3 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 habañero pepper, minced‡
1/4 red onion, finely diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
cilantro (to color)
Put the olive oil in a shot glass and soak the minced habañero for between forty-five minutes and an hour. Dice the papaya, onion and bell pepper. Mix them all together in a large bowl. Add minced garlic and a couple pinches of sea salt. Squeeze lime over everything, mix it all together and let it sit in the fridge for thirty minutes. Add the habañero oil and mix again. Serve with tortilla chips.