My first foray into salsa-making was last year, when my garden exploded in tomatillos and whipping up salsa verde with whatever I had on hand became a September weekend ritual. This year, climate change endowed our garden with red cherry tomatoes; golden yellow cherry tomatoes; and full, ripe, red tomatoes of a few varieties that are continuing to bestow tender and juicy treats well into the third week of October.
The actual tomatoes and peppers have propelled me in a new salsa direction. My experimentation this past Sunday was set to the irresistibly hip-shaking beats of Remolino de Oro, a collection of Colombian cumbias put out by Discos Fuentes, a prominent record label of Colombia. The enthusiasm is catching and undeniable, and even with mediocre Spanish skills, you may find yourself shouting “Wepa!” along with Combo Los Galleros on their 1963 track, “Tabaco Mascao.”
But the non-stop solo dance part doesn’t mean I’m not still honing my salsa-making skills. I’ve really been working on figuring out how to make a salsa that stores well, and I think I’ve got it down.
These are my two main tips. 1) While fresh salsa needs no cookdown and can be so juicy that the excess water dribbles down your chin, (refreshing, right?), stored salsa needs to have less water, and thus, at least half of your tomatoes should be cooked down into tomato paste before being added back into the mix. 2) Cooked cilantro’s flavor is significantly different than fresh cilantro (think cooked spinach vs. fresh), and thus salsa should be freezer stored whenever possible, to avoid cooking down the entire jar of salsa .
So here we are. The outline (be creative to add or subtract a bit based on your garden availability) of making a kick-ass storable salsa.
- 1 cup of firm tomatoes chopped small (I often cut my large garden tomatoes, and take the firm core and outside firm bits for chopping, while throwing the runny bits in my one cup of cooked down tomatoes)
- 1 cup of tomatoes to be cooked down (choose the soft or runny bits of tomatoes for this task, keeping the firm bits for a solid salsa foundation)
- 1 large red bell pepper or 3 yellow wax peppers, finely chopped
- 1 medium-large white onion (Walla Walla sweet onions are great, but not an absolute), chopped as small as you have the patience for
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 2-3 jalapeño peppers (depending on your level of spice)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. fresh black pepper
- Juice of one lime
- Begin slicing your tomatoes, and splitting them into roughly two equal piles. In one pile, place your firm pieces (often the firm outside of an entire tomato, or quarters of cherry tomatoes that are not overly ripe), in the other pile, (or right into a cooking pot), place tomatoes that are less firm, or the runny, inside bits of tomatoes.
- Slice the firm pieces extra small (these will be eaten without blending any further, so you want them your desired salsa-size), and place them in a large bowl.
- Cook down the softer pieces of tomatoes, on low-medium heat for 7-10 minutes, stirring often. The idea is to cook most of the moisture out of these tomatoes, to make a tomato paste, which you will then blend, and then add to the diced fresh vegetables to thicken up the salsa.
- As half of the the tomatoes are cooking down, chop your onions, peppers and jalapeños. Chop the onions as fine as you have the patience for (in the eyes or my partner, they can never be too small!). As for the bell/wax peppers, cut off the tops first and discard, then discard the seeds, and dice to your desired salsa size. Lastly, put on gloves, and carefully chop up the jalapeños. To do so, cut off the tops first and discard, then slice the jalapenos lengthwise. Discard the seeds in the middle of the peppers, and then dice as small as you have the patience for! Try not to breathe directly over chopped jalapeños, wash the gloves before taking them off, and then wash hands carefully once gloves are removed to be on the safe side. Add onions, peppers, and jalapeños to the bowl with the fresh, firm tomato pieces.
- Finely chop cilantro and garlic, and mix in with firm tomatoes, peppers, and jalapeños in the bowl. *I’ve spent long afternoons trying to finely chop cilantro small enough to avoid feeling like tiny leaves are plastering my tongue, and since decided that, cilantro, in my humble opinion, should be blended with just a few cherry tomatoes to get the blender going, but this is personal preference (perhaps – if you’re not a fan of huge onion chunks and/or are a lazy chopper, toss the onions into the blender también).. *If you are not a fan of a strong garlic flavor, add your garlic to the tomato paste as it cooks, for approximately 3-4 minutes. This will take some of the bite off of the garlic.
- Add the juice of the limes into the bowl of diced ingredients.
- Use an immersion blender to blend the cooked down tomatoes, and then you have two options.
- A) If you are going to make freezer salsa, which I recommend to preserve the vibrancy if the cilantro, wait for the pureed tomatoes to cool, then add them to the bowl of salsa. In this version, simply divide the salsa into jars, fill jars to 1/3″ from the top, firmly screw on the lid, and place in the freezer. Violá! Defrost later and enjoy.
- B) If you are lacking freezer space, or want to give the salsa away for gifts, you’ll need to can these babies and seal. For this version, it won’t matter if the paste is still warm, as it will be warm with all other ingredients in a few moments regardless.
- You’ll need to sterilize some jars and lids by boiling for at least 12 minutes. I prefer the 8 oz. or 12 oz sizes, as they are a good gift size. Remove them carefully from heat with tongs.
- Mix together all remaining ingredients (add warm paste into the bowl of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic, before gently tossing), and then fill the jars loosely to the top, as the contents will cook down and take up less space as they boil.
- Bring water to a boil. Submerge salsa jars underwater by at least 1/2″, and boil for at least 15 minutes. Let jars remain in water for an additional 5 minutes, before removing to the counter to gently cool.
- If can has sealed properly, the lid should have “popped” into place (a fun noise to listen for as the salsa cools on the counter). If a jar hasn’t sealed properly make sure to eat within 1-2 weeks.
Both the freezer version and the canned version are great to store, but should be used within 1-2 weeks once opened. I always toe the 2-week end of that line, and feel comfortable doing so, as lime and garlic are both great natural preservatives.
Enjoy eating half of your garden on chips or egg dishes, preferably while sitting in the sun.