Salsa is one of the best products for the gardener and home canner to produce. Salsa, which is much more than a table condiment, is generously applied to Mexican dishes. It also can be used on salads and in sandwiches, and can even be used on pasta and rice. Salsa is easily made, and its primary ingredients are inexpensive to buy and easy to grow in the home garden.
The secrets to making delicious and healthful salsa are related to the ingredients used, but more importantly to the procedures to be followed.
As for ingredients, the base of the salsa is tomatoes or their less common cousin, tomatillos. The latter are used to make green salsa, which can also be made with unripe tomatoes. Fresh produce is a must, and when using ripened (red) tomatoes it is best to use a plum type tomato. “Roma” and other varieties of plum tomatoes have more flesh and less liquid than salad type tomatoes.
Other key ingredients:
- Onions used for salsa should be good “keeper” types, those that when kept raw in a cool place will last long. These will also keep better when canned. For those that don’t like strong oniony flavor, simply use less onion. Vidalia and other sweeter varieties are not long lasting onions.
- Peppers provide much of the character in homemade salsa. Bell peppers, which are fine in many dishes (including fajitas), do not belong in salsa. There are many other peppers suitable for mild salsa, including New Mexico (Anaheim) or mild Hungarian wax. Hot salsa can include Jalapenos, Serranos, or Habaneros, listed in ascending order of heat.
- Garlic is excellent in salsa, and can be used in considerable quantity, especially when one is preparing a highly spiced salsa. Avoid powdered or granulated garlic or even commercially prepared, refrigerated minced garlic. Fresh garlic has a flavor that is far superior to these products.
- Spices used in salsa include, but are not limited to: chili powder blends; individual spices that compose these blends, e.g. turmeric, dehydrated chili peppers, and cumin; and cilantro, an herb that adds a unique and tangy flavor to salsa.
- Other vegetables can be added, but with a mind toward keeping within the flavor boundaries of salsa. Avoid celery, for example. Carrots make a good addition, especially because they are slightly sweet and will balance the acidity needed for safe canning.
- Acidifying (see procedures) is accomplished with vinegar, lemon juice, or powdered citric acid.
- Firstly, for those who have read about how good is to peel and seed tomatoes, it is far better to save your time. These painstaking procedures do not improve the flavor or texture. Likewise, there is no need to seed peppers when making salsa. In fact, when using hot peppers, seeding them only increases your chance of skin and eye burning.
- Fresh tomatoes can be chopped, but it is far easier to use a food processor. For those that don’t have this appliance, it is worth the investment to buy one on sale to save time and clean-up trouble.
- Tomatoes, even the meaty plum types, still have high water content. The chopped tomatoes should be put into a drainer (colander) and worked over with a wooden spoon. It’s wise to keep a large aluminum bowl underneath during this step, to capture the juice.
- Chop or process the onions and peppers also. One great idea is to throw the chopped peppers into the colander with the tomatoes and toss together. This will yield a peppery flavored tomato juice in the aluminum bowl. This delicious juice will keep for days in the refrigerator.
- Garlic is best chopped by hand, because the cook will want smaller pieces (minced). Garlic is fine fresh, but for even better flavor, the minced garlic can be sautéed (light pan cooking in olive oil) until golden brown. This truly enhances its flavor.
- Other vegetables should be run through the food processor until an appealing size is attained.
- Spices, generally in a fine form, are then added. Cumin powder works well, but if the whole seeds are used, they need to be ground up so the flavor is evenly spread. When using cilantro, buy it fresh, rinse it, then chop it coarsely. There’s no need to be finicky with this herb.
Other than possibly the garlic, nothing is cooked before the ingredients are mixed. After mixing, the salsa can be enjoyed fresh or can be canned, especially if a large quantity is involved. When canning, the acidifiers mentioned as an ingredient will help to preserve the salsa. Canning instructions are readily available, using either boiling water or pressurized canners.
Your homemade salsa can be a source of pride, and it can be a superb gift for friends or family. Home canned products convey a warm personal feel when presented as a gift.