Salsa Verde


Who can deny salsa verde?  Its compelling color; its shrewd taste and lean texture; its surprising level of heat.  If not for the fact that it resembles drainy cat vomit, it might sell better than the more familiar tomato-based salsa.  True connoisseurs, however, addicted lovers of gastronomía de México, pay no attention to its runny appearance or its counter-expectational shade.  In fact, they don’t consider for a moment what it merely looks like; instead they indulge, sometimes daily, in its uniqueness.  True connoisseurs would not think to serve salsa to guests without including both the roja and verde varieties, often pausing to level a challenging glance at said guest and uttering, “Be careful with the verde; it is quite spicy.”  Meaning, of course: I don’t think you can handle it, dawg.

To clarify, the heat of salsa verde comes from its indulgent use of serrano peppers—native to mountainous Puebla and Hidalgo states of Mexico—which look something like jalapeños (forest green), but are both skinnier and hotter (up to 23,000 SHU).   The green—the verde—of the salsa verde comes partly from the serranos but mostly from tomatillos: a small, extremely spherical, and highly seedy fruit native to Central America but now grown throughout the western hemisphere.   These tomatillos add no heat, but they create the beautiful, medium-cool shade that distinguishes this salsa from its mundane red counterpart.  Tomatillos are also known as Mexican Husk Tomatoes, although no one actually calls them that, because it is a flat, clunky, unappetizing appellation, one that does nothing to excite the tongue.  Now, tomatillos.  That sounds magical.  At its core, then, that is all one needs for a salsa verde: tomatillos and serrano peppers.  If one combines those ingredients, one has made what one wants.  But, of course, there are various other recipes, more or less elaborate.  Some recipes include cilantro—or garlic—or olive oil—or lime juice—or onion.  Some recipes call for cilantro and garlic and olive oil and lime juice and onions.  It does not matter.   These are all incidental ingredients, not the core components.  Some recipes dare suggest using jalapeños instead of serranos.  But such recipes are abominations and are not be followed.  Such recipes create a salsa verde that does not inflict the thematically necessary and physically inherent contradictions of pain and pleasure, heat and cool, spice and structure, fire and liquid, discomfort and ease.


She’s not sure if she’s getting bored or hungry.  But she feels a dissatisfaction gnawing inside her now, something that tells her all is not right with this day or with this project.  The painter has given her yet another pose to assume: this time her back turned to him, her muscly ass fully apparent and her arms lifted in that classic strongman’s look-at-my-biceps pose.  Her head, at the painter’s command, is pointed softly down and a bit to the side, so that a part of her left cheek shows and her ear.  A pose that seems to suggest that while in the midst of showing off her naked body, she is also musing on a nagging philosophical problem, or maybe examining a dead roach of the floor.

“Mmmm . . . mmmm . . . mmm,” she hears Decklenberg mutter, as if this, for him, is the most powerful pose of all.  In which case, why did he not have her adopt it from the start?  And what is he doing now—painting over all what he did before and starting again?  After all, this isn’t a photo shoot.  The painter can’t capture dozens of different positions in one sitting.  Can he?  Wouldn’t that take days instead of hours?  “Mmmm,” he says again, with more emphasis.   Is it possible he just likes her ass?

No.  That is not possible.  He is not that kind of painter, nor that kind of man.  He proves it by the next thing he says: “I really appreciate how you can hold your jaw and your mouth so still, Ricardo.”

It occurs to her that maybe his positioning and repositioning of her is only for the purpose of altering her weight on the chair and thus changing the tensions funneling into Ricardo’s back; testing Ricardo’s calm resolve.  Is that all he’s after?

And, for that matter: Ricardo? What is he, Mexican?  Italian?  Cuban?  Puerto Rican?  They did not share a single word when she came in, so she has no idea of any accent he may or may not have.  In fact, when she came in, she sensed that the stoic, lightly olive-skinned, and obviously good-looking guy wanted nothing whatsoever to do with her.  He wanted to remain within himself.  He wore a black dressing gown like a boxer and stood in a corner staring straight ahead.  When the painter introduced her, all Ricardo did was nod.  Fine, she had thought then.  Whatever.  Maybe he’s got his modeling mental rituals.  Or maybe he’s just a self-absorbed asshole.  When Ricardo removed the robe so they could start their posing, she refused to give his body even a rudimentary once over.  Hers was the star of this painting, after all, not his.  And she wasn’t about to offer an asshole the gratification of seeing her checking out his butt.

Suddenly Ricardo speaks, responding to the painter’s previous comment.  “Podría sostener esta pose durante diez horas.

The painter chuckles.  “Ten,” he says, “really?”

Diez horas sin cambio.”

So Ricardo is Mexican, after all.  Or something.  She wishes she remembered vocabulary from her two years of high school Spanish, but she doesn’t.  The only thing she can make out from what he said is “ten,” which the painter then went and repeated anyway in English.  Ten what?  Ten paintings?  No way.  Not happening.  She is getting too damn hungry.  And painting more than one painting is out of the question anyway, beyond anything Julian Decklenberg explained to her.

“You guys need anything?” Decklenberg says, as if he read her mind.  And then, for Ricardo’s sake, although the man apparently understands English, “¿Necesitas algo?”

Just to be contrary, and to be a bad ass, she says, “No.”  So does Ricardo.  But, regardless, she hears the painter set down his board and shuffle to the right side of the room, where a modest, functional kitchen is established: a half-sized refrigerator; small counter and sink; a set of cabinets overhead. She hears the familiar sound of a refrigerator opening. She hears the clatter of ceramic bowls being moved, a plate being repositioned. A jar is opened.  Then a vacuum-sealed bag.  Something light and crisp and crackly is being poured onto the plate.  She wants to look to see what the hell is going on, but she’d rather be known, like Ricardo, as someone who can hold a pose.  But if the painter makes her stand around a lot longer than what he originally said, she is going to ask for a lot more money.

Aquí,” Decklenberg says.  Then she hears the plate being deposited on the floor.  She really wants to look.  She doesn’t.

She hears the painter shuffle back to his easel.  He is silent a moment, and then says, in English, “Ricardo comes to Philly by way of Hollywood by way of Ensenada.  He used to work in computer animation out there—west coast—kids’ cartoons, you know?  Back in the early 2000s?  But he says modeling is more satisfying.”  She hears the painter take a long pause; she might even hear him sigh.  “No model in the world is more resilient than Ricardo.”