Make use of extra vegetables by making salsa

This week, my tomato harvest exceeded all expectations and there’s about 5 gallons of the fruits sitting on my kitchen counter. I’ve eaten BLT’s for the past month and added my tasty heirlooms to salads and as a side to breakfast eggs. It is definitely time to make salsa. The thought of a jar of home made salsa popped open in the middle of January is always comforting. Especially since I’ve grown most of the ingredients myself. My heirloom tomatoes and peppers make up the bulk of the recipe and I add onion, lime and salt. Some folks add cilantro, however, I’ve never developed a liking for the herb, so I am in the anti-cilantro camp.

Salsa has a long and interesting history

Salsa is an ancient condiment. The Maya, Aztec and Inca civilizations all had various forms of what we call salsa today. It consisted mainly of chopped tomatoes and peppers, with seeds and other vegetables added and seasoned with local spices. They served it with meat dishes to give them more flavor. When the Spaniards arrived in the 1500’s, they immediately saw salsa as a good thing, along with the tomatoes and peppers. The vegetables were one of the first exports back to Spain and the Mediterranean basin embraced the New World plants, added their own onions and garlic with a squeeze of citrus and the rest is history. Salsa wasn’t actually called salsa until 1571 when Alonso de Molina named it. However, the Spanish word 'salsa' simply translates to sauce, so it wasn’t much of a genius moment. They refined it and divided it into different categories. Cooked salsa and fresh salsa, both have their place and are equally popular. Salsa fresca or pico de gallo, refers to salsa that hasn’t been cooked and salsa generally means that the popular dip has been cooked to extend its shelf life. However, with many popular foods, the lines have blurred over the years. We eat salsa with chips, on burritos and enchiladas, with burgers and dogs and we even top our breakfast eggs with the tasty mixture. It is no wonder that by 1992, salsa’s dollar value sales exceeded that of ketchup, which is amazing considering the devotion ketchup-loving Americans have for the scarlet dip.

There are many types of salsa

While we are going to be making tomato salsa, there are so many other options. I’ve made citrus salsa and sweet cherry salsa recently and many people love mango salsa. The combination of fruit and spicy peppers is just about always a great combination. Adding avocado to any salsa gives it a buttery flavor and also tempers the heat from the peppers a bit. Or, if your family doesn’t care for the heat, there are many sweet peppers that add flavor without the burn. There isn’t any real recipe that I follow, however I do construct it with percentages. A basic recipe is 1/2 tomatoes, ¼ onions, ¼ sweet peppers and a small amount of hot peppers to taste. I usually add ingredients, a few at a time, tasting as I go. It also depends on what I am going to use it for and how long I expect to keep it. The canning process turns avocados to mush, so if I am preserving my salsa, I always leave those out. Salsa is one of the most economical foods a cook can preserve. Commercial salsa commands some hefty prices and if you preserve your own, it cuts the cost significantly. Even if you have to purchase your vegetables, ask for the uglies at the farmer’s market. These are not perfect and you can take them home cheaply. You’ll need pint canning jars and seals. Last year, that was a huge problem with all of the shortages. This year, you can find them.

Pint jar with rings and lids can be shipped right to your door.

salsa vegetables

Make homemade salsa

To make salsa, you’ll need tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers and hot peppers. I also have lemons, fresh limes, garlic scapes, balsamic vinegar and salt on hand for seasoning. Many people peel their tomatoes first and if you want to, you can. The task is easier if you cut an X on the bottom of each tomato and put them in boiling water for a minute, then spoon them in to a container of ice water. The skins peel off easily then. However, I just leave the skins on mine. After the salsa is cooked, you can’t really tell they are there. Chop the tomatoes into small chunks between an inch and half inch. Chop about half as much onion and half as much sweet pepper, so that those vegetables make up about half of the total mass. Place everything in a large stockpot and add a chopped small hot pepper, the juice from a couple of limes and a lemon. Bring to a boil and add two tablespoons of un-iodized salt (iodized salt turns canned goods dark) and a quarter cup of vinegar. Stir and cook for about 15 minutes. Test your salsa by scooping up some with a chip and sampling it. Add more salt, citrus, vegetables or hot pepper to taste. When you are satisfied, it is ready to can.

If you are not sure about your salsa seasoning skills, here's pouches of seasoning to make it easier.

canned salsa

Preserving salsa for later

I use pint jars for my salsa. Even if your jars are new, be sure to wash them thoroughly and place them in a stockpot of hot water. Bring to a simmer and let the jars stay there to sterilize. Place your seals in a small pan of hot water and do the same with them. This assures that the lids are pliable enough to properly seal. One at a time, remove your jars from the hot water and place it on a folded dishtowel or cloth. Scoop and fill the jar to within a half inch of the rim, add a seal and ring. Do this for all of your jars until the salsa is gone. Use your water bath canner, or if you don’t have one, a large stockpot with a towel in to bottom will work. Add your jars and fill with hot water, just covering the tops of the jars. Place a lid on the stockpot or canner and bring the water to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove your salsa jars to the counter where you’ve placed a towel and allow them to cool and seal. A jar lifter is the safest way to handle these hot containers, so it wouldn’t hurt to invest in one. They’re not expensive. Your jars should seal as they cool...you’ll hear the distinctive pop. Store your salsa in a cabinet at room temperature. It should be good for over a year, however we’re betting it won’t last that long.

Here's all the canning tools you'll need to make preserving food easier.

When you have extra vegetables, make salsa

Salsas have a long and rich history and there’s so much you can do with them. Add garlic, tomatillos, cucumbers and other vegetables to your fresh salsa. Use peaches, berries and melons in fruit salsas. If your family has a favorite fresh food, experiment and create a salsa around it. Top your baked potato or roasted chicken with salsa. Add it to meatloaf. Even grilled fish is better with salsa. It’s so much more than a chip dip. It is low in calories, high in fiber and if you make it yourself, you can control the amount of sugar or salt added. It adds zing to everyday recipes and when you make it yourself, it's economical and healthy.

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