Growing for garden salsa

Photo by Rex Jensen

Salsa has become a very popular snack food in recent years. One reason salsa is so appealing to so many people, and why it is so tasty, is because it combines many flavorful ingredients—and it’s even better if the ingredients are fresh from your garden. All of the salsa ingredients can be easily and successfully grown in the gardens of Washington County.

Although fresh salsa is certainly tasty and appealing, I have become converted to the cooked and canned variety. Combining all these wonderful ingredients, and cooking them into a canned salsa does two things, fresh salsa cannot deliver; 1) it allows all the flavors to blend and season in a way fresh salsa cannot, and 2) it allows you to enjoy salsa year round, long after the garden has stopped producing.

Plus, it is a great way to use “surplus” produce from the garden.

The Rockin Salsa | Photo by Rex Jensen

“Rockin Salsa” is my favorite recipe, and I promise you’ll like it too. Here’s what you need to grow in your garden in order to meet the recipe requirements of this salsa:

  1. Onions (red, white, yellow, it really doesn’t matter. You can use one or all three.)
  2. Tomatoes (the variety doesn’t matter much, but larger tomatoes are easier to deal with and less time consuming, since they must be blanched and peeled before you put them in your recipe)
  3. Bell Peppers (any variety and color is as good as the next, and they ripen all summer long)
  4. Anaheim Peppers (Anaheims will give you a mild salsa, if you want more “bite” to it, use Jalapeno, or other hot varieties, or combine both.)
  5. Garlic (garlic is easy to grow and easy to harvest

Another advantage of cooked/canned salsa is that the maturity of the 5 ingredients above is not critical. The tomatoes should be ripe, but the size and maturity of the other ingredients don’t matter much. If onions are planted early, as they should be, they will be large and bulbed by the time the tomatoes and peppers are ready.

Here is the Rockin Salsa recipe:

  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 green bell peppers, chopped
  • 3 Anaheim/banana/jalapeno peppers… if you have them
  • 3 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 8 pint canning jars with lids and rings
  • Combine all ingredients in a large pot (if your pot is large enough, double or triple the recipe). Simmer until thick, about three hours.
  • Sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water for at least five minutes. Pack the salsa into the hot, sterilized jars, filling the jars to within 1/4 inch of the top. Run a knife or a thin spatula around the insides of the jars after they have been filled to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars with a moist paper towel to remove any food residue. Top with lids, and screw on rings.
  • Place a rack in the bottom of a large stockpot and fill halfway with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then carefully lower the jars into the pot using a holder. Leave a two inch space between the jars. Pour in more boiling water if necessary until the water level is at least one inch above the tops of the jars. Bring the water to a full boil, cover the pot, and process for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Remove the jars from the stockpot and place onto a cloth-covered or wood surface, several inches apart, until cool. Once cool, press the top of each lid with a finger, ensuring that the seal is tight (lid does not move up or down at all). Refrigerate after opening.

Since making salsa is a bit of a process, I recommend you do it only once, and set aside the entire day, can all you have the ingredients for, make several batches if necessary, and then you only have one cleanup, and you will have salsa for the rest of the year. This is more than a one-person job, so involve the kids or grandkids, they’ll love the excitement and novelty of making homemade salsa.

If the tomatoes are juicy varieties, you’ll need to cook the salsa longer. The salsa should be fairly thick (think Pace Picante sauce) when put in the jars. If less juicy tomatoes are used, the cooking time will be lessened, but all give a great flavor, so use what you grow. This is also a place you can use “ugly” produce from the garden, scarred, sunburned, small, misshapen, under-ripe, over-ripe—it doesn’t matter.

The reward of eating your own, homegrown salsa will motivate you to do this every year.

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Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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