Playing with fire
“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” Ferdinand Foch
There was a time when even the word “jalapeño” used to scare me. I shrank away from spicy foods with a genuine fear of getting burned and I had a very low tolerance for anything hot. So when I was first introduced to this recipe for homemade salsa, I chose to omit the spicy chili peppers completely. The end result was a delicious, chunky tomato sauce, but to call it salsa would have been an insult to the condiment.
Over time I’ve learned to appreciate the warmth that spreads like a slow burn through my mouth upon biting into a moderately spiced dish. I’m no five alarm, fire-breathing spicy food expert, but I do enjoy the exciting burst of flavours that comes from adding some heat to a recipe. There are numerous health benefits associated with the cleansing powers of spicy foods including pain relief, detoxification and relief of stomach cramps. And according to some of my friends who are of the “hotter the better” camp, the heat from chili peppers can even be addictive, causing normal foods to taste bland.
It would be easy to make a comparison here to the notion of burning with passion for God – that our faith could benefit from a boost of this kind of flame that enhances everything else and causes us to crave more. But biblical references to God and fire are first and foremost about his untouchable holiness. God was first referred to as a “consuming fire” in Deuteronomy 4:24 and 9:3, and this is repeated in Hebrews where the writer warns the Hebrews to approach God with reverence and awe. The meaning is clear throughout the Old Testament in the many displays of fire that represent God’s wrath, judgement and power that our God can completely consume or destroy those who oppose him.
Before we cower in fear from these images of a harsh God, however, let’s look at two other references to fire in Scripture – that of sacrificial burnt offerings, and the tongues of fire that portrayed the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. Both represent the act of purification – symbols of the incredible grace our Father extends to us in allowing us to become pure and blameless in his sight, with his own Spirit burning inside of us. Like the fiery capsaicin in chili peppers that flushes the body of toxins, God’s holy fire in us can consume and destroy all of our unrighteousness, leaving a pure flame burning that glorifies his name. That is the kind of fire we should all be craving and consuming.
Did you know? Salsa is the Spanish word for “sauce.” The making of of a sauce by combining chiles, tomatoes and other ingredients like squash seeds and even beans has been documented back to the Aztec culture.
- 12 large ripe tomatoes, diced
- 2 large onions, diced
- 4-5 red and green bell peppers, diced
- 4 medium jalapeño peppers, with seeds, finely chopped*
- 1 6-oz can tomato paste
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ cup vinegar
- 1 Tbsp + ½ tsp salt
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Prepare all ingredients, bring to boil over med-high heat in a large stock pot. Reduce heat and simmer for ½ hour (or longer if there is still a lot of liquid in the mixture). Ladle into clean canning jars, top with new seals and lids, and process in canner for 15 minutes. Unsealed jars may be stored in the refrigerator. Makes 12 500-mL jars. Try adding different ingredients like corn, black beans, diced mangoes or peaches for interesting variations.
*Remember to wear plastic gloves while cutting jalapeños, as the capsaicin may burn your hands. If you want to reduce the amount of heat in the salsa, remove some of the seeds and cut away some of the white pith in the ribs of the pepper.