Salsa showdown heats up Cinco de Mayo party |

Salsa showdown heats up Cinco de Mayo party

Jeff Munson
Jim Grant/Tahoe Daily Tribune Monica Torres samples salsa at a Cinco de Mayo celebration Monday night.

With a dash of tang and all the spice of a traditional Mexican fiesta, Cinco de Mayo was celebrated two days early at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

Traditional Mexican food and salsas, a mariachi band, folk dancing and original costumes greeted the more than 600 South Shore residents on Monday to the first community Cinco de Mayo celebration.

“It is wonderful to see the diversity in our community; people came here from all walks of life,” said Delicia Spees, executive director of the Family Resource Center, which was responsible for putting on the event. The 12-year-old community outreach program raised at least $10,000 for its bilingual counseling services through Monday’s Cinco de Mayo fund-raiser.

At $20 a plate, residents dished up as much authentic Mexican food as they could take in, offered by five South Shore restaurants: Chevys Fresh Mex, Lakeside Inn & Casino’s Taberna, Los Mexicanos, The Cantina and Taco Tacqueria.

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With the restaurants showcasing specialties that kept long lines moving, it was the salsa bar that generated the most heat. Literally.

Each restaurant brought its own secret salsa concoction to compete in a taste test among fiestagoers. When the ballots were counted, it was a tie between Lakeside’s Taberna and Los Mexicanos.

Lulu Montelongo, a 16-year Lake Tahoe resident, served up cups of salsa, offering her own take on the contestants. She enjoyed all five versions, but it was Taberna’s that she predicted would win. She liked Los Mexicanos as well, though not picking it to win.

Taught the art of salsa making by her mother, Montelongo, a playground supervisor at the resource center, said the secret to a good salsa is broiling some of the major ingredients first before stewing it into a batch.

“You cook it, but not too much,” Montelongo said, referring to chile peppers and tomatoes.

While she prefers the serrano pepper, friend Martha Garcia likes the jalapeno as the base pepper. In a salsa, especially, it is better to brown or slightly blacken the pepper before it is chopped into the mix, Garcia said. The same is true with tomatoes.

There are some places where salsa makers don’t do it and you can taste the difference, Montelongo said. Both women agreed the contest winners broiled the peppers and tomatoes perfectly.

For the women, an award-winning salsa must contain the tomatoes, cilantro, onions, chile peppers (jalapeno or serrano) salt and garlic. Besides broiling the pepper and tomatoes, each ingredient must not overpower one another. If they do, the salsa maker is in too big of a hurry. If you can taste a little of everything in one bite, then the salsa is of an authentic quality carefully prepared, Montelongo said.

Salsa sampler Susana Munoz preferred Taberna’s salsa, as it had “a nice, spicy variety” with enough salt added to bring out all the flavors.

“It’s good, but not as good as my mom’s. She puts more lemon than salt into it, which brings out the flavor more,” Munoz said.

With her own salsa recipe, Monica Torres of Taco Tacqueria said the competition was tough but she still enjoyed each concoction.

“They’re all good,” she said, sampling the last of five sample cups with tortilla chips.

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