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Fresh salsa starts with fresh mandarins

Recipe: Seasonal condiment pairs well with chips or seafood

Let the mandarin, jalapeno, red onion and cilantro flavors meld a bit, then dig in to this fresh winter salsa.

Let the mandarin, jalapeno, red onion and cilantro flavors meld a bit, then dig in to this fresh winter salsa. Kathy Morrison

As much as I love the flavors of Thanksgiving, by the end of the holiday weekend I'm desperate for different ones -- but not Christmas flavors, not yet.

Fortunately, I have plenty of mandarins in that 10-pound bag I bought from one of our foothill growers. Mandarins aren't great for baking but they do play well in salads and other fresh creations.

Salsa, I decided, was about as far as I could get from mashed potatoes, turkey gravy and sage-scented stuffing. It relies on fresh ingredients at any time of year, including plenty of fresh cilantro.

I used the smallest of the mandarins that were in my bag, and 6 of those produced about 1 cup of chopped pieces, but adjust the number depending on the size fruit you have.

Try this salsa with tortilla chips or over some grilled seafood or chicken. Spice it up some more, with hotter peppers or some red-pepper flakes, if that's to your taste, too.

Mandarin and lime winter salsa

Makes about 1-1/2 cups

Ingredients:

4 to 6 mandarins (Satsumas or clementines),  about 3/4 pound before peeling

1 jalapeño, de-seeded and minced (use 2, or another type of hot pepper, if you like)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves and some stems (about 1/3 of a bunch)

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

Zest and juice of 1 lime

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Sprinkle of red-pepper flakes, optional

Instructions:

Peel the mandarins, and separate into halves. Pull out the stringy middle and any other loose bits. Using a serrated knife, slice the halves horizontally across the segments and add them to a bowl. The cut segments will come apart on their own or can be easily pulled apart. You should have about 1 cup of segment pieces.

Stir in the minced jalapeño, the chopped cilantro, chopped onion, lime zest and juice.

Add 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Taste and add more salt as needed. Stir in the sprinkle of red-pepper flakes if using.

The salsa can be served immediately, but I think it tastes better if it is chilled for 1 hour. Stir and taste again to adjust flavors before serving.

This salsa also is best the day it is made, but will keep in the refrigerator for another day or so.

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Garden Checklist for week of May 19

Temperatures will be a bit higher than normal in the afternoons this week. Take care of chores early in the day – then enjoy the afternoon. It’s time to smell the roses.

* Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. If you haven’t already, it’s time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

* Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

* Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

* In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters.

* Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

* Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

* Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

* For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

* Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

* Add mulch to the garden to help keep that precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

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