It’s taken a long time for Stewart Reeder to perfect his salsa recipe, a slow-simmered jalapeño blend developed from a salsa his mother made famous in the neighborhood.
“When I was a kid, my mother, Linda, would always make snacks for when we had friends over. Salsa became the neighborhood favorite. In 1994, for our wedding, my mother gave us a food processor and finally handed over the recipe,” says Reeder, a Chandler resident who will compete Saturday in the My Nana’s Best Tasting Salsa Challenge.
The contest lures more than 20,000 people to downtown Tempe to taste more than 100 versions of the Southwestern condiment. Organizers estimate salsa lovers will munch through 3,000 pounds of tortilla chips at the event, where teams of home cooks and restaurant pros prepare fresh salsa on-site in an effort to win a $1,000 grand prize and a People’s Choice Award.
The challenge is a fundraiser for the Arizona Hemophilia Association. It features continuous live music on stage by local bands Race You There, HeadRoom, Champagne Tap, Kongos and Second Shift. There’s also a Cazadores Margarita Mix-Off, where bartenders will compete to make the best margarita.
Reeder, a manager at a Gilbert glass company, says he and his wife, Sandra, tweaked their salsa nonstop over the years, taking orders from co-workers and anyone else who would eat it. After moving to the Valley in 2007, they entered the My Nana’s challenge for the first time last year, under the name “Mama Rita Salsa.” Despite showing up with a team of four, when many teams sport 10 or 15 people, and running out of 13 gallons of salsa by 5 p.m., they placed third in the individual hot salsa category.
“This year, we will be making close to 20 gallons and hope to run out again,” says Reeder, who offers some tips on making salsa at home:
“Making salsa isn’t difficult and really requires little knowledge of cooking. All you have to do is Google salsa, and you’ll get a million recipes. Start with one that looks good to you, and adjust it as you go. A fresh salsa is probably the easiest: canned tomatoes, jalapeños, onion, garlic, cilantro and a blender. Some like it hot, some not. Some like it chunky, some not. It has taken me 17 years to get Mama Rita Salsa to the point that I don’t play with the recipe any longer.”
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