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The experience of eating chiles for the first time might have something to do with Europeans’ relative disinterest in tomatoes.
The first salsa, raw tomatoes and chiles, was as much a hot condiment as a sauce.
The salt cod dish I made was simple: the recipe had me “fry an abundance” of tomatoes and onions, which made what started to look a lot like a familiar Italian tomato sauce.
Then, I layered the tomatoes with the fish, along with parsley and garlic, and brought the whole mess to a boil.
The second salsa, though, with onions, salt, oil, and vinegar added to roasted tomato, along with the hot pepper, was legitimately good (if you like salsa).
The vinegar and salt helped tame the pepper, and while the thyme was a strange note, the combination worked. The most “modern” variation, with garlic and parsley, was also the most European.
Before the coming of tomatoes and peppers, salt cod would have been cooked just with the onions and garlic and maybe the parsley; the tomatoes make the dish.In southern Spain, where tomatoes were first grown in Europe, the climate was favorable for tomato plants, and it seems likely that tomatoes would have been eaten freshly pulled from the vine, i.e., in their ideal state.Perhaps the problem was the way Europeans were preparing them.Chile peppers were even more radical than tomatoes.Until Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean, their hottest spices were mustard, native to the Mediterranean, and black or long pepper, imported from South Asia.