The snow has melted, the cardinals are warbling songs of courtship, and the days are getting longer. Spring has undeniably arrived, yet the days still seem gray and dreary, with summer still only a distant promise. Don’t just wait helplessly for summer to happen; bring your own heat.
El Burrito Mercado Mexican market, an institution in St. Paul’s “District del Sol” on the West side for 30 years, has jarred up the Silva family’s salsa recipes and is offering them for sale. The green Salsa Verde, medium-hot according to the label, is made of tomatillos and jalapeño peppers and is tangy, spicy, and faintly sour. The mild red Salsa Sabrosa, tomato-based, is sweeter and richer. Both salsas are silkier and thinner than typical supermarket brands, but still hold together well enough to use as a dip with chips. “Great for Cooking” cries the label, but I confess, in spite of my best intentions and after several purchases, neither salsa lasted long enough in my cupboards to be used in any of their recipes, instead falling victim to a giant bag of tortilla chips, ground-beef tacos and scrambled eggs.
Tomas and Maria Silva, who hail from Aguascalientes, Mexico, started El Burrito Mercado in 1979 as an 800 sq. ft. market selling Mexican groceries, which Tomas Silva would bring back from Chicago in a van on weekends, and tortillas. The Silvas claim be “the first in Minnesota to bring out a corn roaster and prepare [corn] Mexican-style [roasted, then smothered with crema, butter, queso cotija, chile powder and lime] at festivals and outside the marketplace.” Over the years the market grew. Today, El Burrito Mercado sells grocery goods, Mexican folk art, has a bakery, a cafe, a deli and offers catering. All three Silva children, now grown, are involved in the family business.
When asked how the salsa recipes have been adapted to the Minnesota palate, Milissa Diaz, the head of El Burrito Mercado’s marketing efforts and the Silvas’ daughter, responded: “The salsas are Silva family recipes, they are traditional, authentic salsa like one would make at home-except for Sabrosa has less peppers than we use at home- we want to make sure everybody would enjoy it.” As for serving suggestions, Diaz said: “They are great cooking sauces to make ‘guisados’ which are like meat stews, cook favorite meats/poultry and then add the salsa to it to simmer, serve with rice, potatoes, beans or steamed veggies to complete a delicious meal.”
The Silvas have made a couple of attempts to partner with SuperTarget delis and SuperValu to sell their salsas, initially fresh, and more recently shelf-stable, they believe their salsas will find more support in “specialty markets where an authentic salsa like ours may be more appreciated.”
Look for El Burrito Mercado’s canned salsas, as well as their sturdy “homestyle” tortilla chips, at Mississippi Market (both stores) in St. Paul, at The Produce Exchange at Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, through Nash Finch in Rapid City, SD (and, eventually, in five Nash Finch divisions), and at Rochester Wholesale Fruit in Winona, MN, and their fresh salsa in El Burrito Mercado’s own market on the west side of St. Paul.