America’s #1 Condiment Salsa, By Jennifer Fishburn, U of I Extension
August 17, 2013, You have bushels of tomatoes and peppers and you don’t know what to do with them, how about making salsa. Salsa made with fresh garden vegetables is one of my favorite summer snacks.
Americans have grown to love salsa, surpassing ketchup as our favorite condiment. While there are many variations, a basic salsa recipe includes tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro and tomatillos. Most of the universal ingredients in salsa can be grown successfully in a full sun home garden.
Tomatoes are the basic ingredient in many salsa recipes. Paste tomatoes, such as 'Roma,' Viva Italia,' and 'Veeroma,' are the best tomatoes to use for salsa however, any type of tomato can be used to make salsa. Paste tomatoes are firmer, meatier and produce a thicker sauce than slicing tomatoes.
Select tomatoes with good color, plump shape, blemishfree skin and a texture that is slightly soft to the touch. Avoid using tomatoes that are bruised, overripe, or on frost-killed vines.
Peppers give the "kick" to salsa. You can vary the hotness of the salsa by the type, quantity and portion of the peppers used. The degree of heat of a pepper is measured in “Scoville Heat Units.” This scale ranges from 0 for the sweet bell pepper, to 300,000 for the Habanero pepper. Peppers from mildest to hottest are Bell, Jalapeno, Cayenne, Thai and Habanero.
Most of the heat is contained in the membranes and is hottest at the stem end of the pepper. Water stressing pepper plants can increase pungency, and cooler temperatures can lower the heat of peppers. In many recipes hot peppers are referred to as chile peppers.
Bell Peppers are often picked when green and immature but if they are allowed to ripen to a red color, they will be sweeter. Hot peppers are often harvested at maturity, usually when red. Choose high-quality peppers that are fresh-looking, firm and thick-fleshed, and free of disease and insect damage.
It’s best to wear gloves when handling hot peppers, because the volatile oils can cause skin irritation or burns. One type of pepper may be substituted for another type of pepper in salsa recipes. However when canning, do not vary the total amount of peppers called for in a recipe.
Cilantro, Coriandrum satmim, is a plant species with a couple of popular names including Chinese parsley and coriander. Cilantro refers to the green leaves; coriander refers to the seed heads. This annual herb, which looks like parsley, grows easily from seed and germinates quickly. Since cilantro bolts easily, make successive plantings every 2 to 3 weeks. Varieties, which do not bolt as quickly, include ‘Santo’, ‘Leisure’, ‘Jantar’, ‘Slo Bolt’, and ‘Long Standing’.
Select cilantro that appears fresh, has crisp leaves and stems and is free of browning and decay. Cilantro- the leaves- and coriander- the seeds- are not interchangeable in recipes.
Tomatillos, known as Mexican husk tomatoes, resemble green tomatoes with a papery covering or husk. Tomatillos, the main ingredient in authentic Mexican green salsa- salsa verde- have a tart flavor similar to green apples. Before eating, remove the dry outer husk, they do not need to be peeled or seeded. Tomatillos are a tender, warm season annual that require the same care as tomatoes.
For more information on growing and harvesting vegetables and herbs used in tomato salsa visit North Dakota Extension Service web site, From Garden to Table at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/foods/fn584.pdf .