¡LAS SALSITAS! / Women craft Mexican salsas as way to learn English

by Linda Murphy for The San Francisco Chronicle

Marisol Jimenez pauses several times to study the chalkboard as she lists the ingredients to make Seven-Chile Salsa for Salmon.

It's not that she doesn't know how to make the dish. She's prepared it countless times. It's just that the recipe has never been written down. The steps are in her head, taught to her by her mother, who learned them from her mother.

Watching her are 12 women, intently following every move. But this isn't a cooking class. The dozen women watching Jimenez write out a salsa recipe are trying to learn English.

The language class is taught at the Anderson Valley Adult School in Boonville in Mendocino County. The women attending are salsa experts who have moved to the region but don't know much English. Between 10 and 20 women attend English class on any given day, depending on work and family obligations.

As Jimenez describes each ingredient to her audience, there are questions. Does it matter what type of tomatoes you use? "I used 50 percent Roma tomatoes and 50 percent slicing tomatoes, but it doesn't matter, as long as they are red and ripe," Jimenez replies.