I’ve always loved chips and salsa. Who doesn’t? Over the years I’ve graduated from the Walmart salsa with too much corn syrup in it, to the nicer brands (when I could afford them) to WOW, my friend cans her own salsa and it tastes amazing, to OOPS, I canned an enormous batch of my own salsa and it tastes… kind of OK if you add some cilantro and hot pepper after you open the jar. (That was not my best episode. I drove my poor husband to help me make the stuff and ever since then he’s looked wary whenever the word “canning” passes my lips.) It was my husband who finally discovered the true Grail of salsa, what we’d been seeking all along: salsa fresca, otherwise known as fresh salsa.
We love fresh salsa.
In the summer, when all the ingredients are fresh and ripe and just picked from the garden, that stuff is amazing. Yes, it’s more of a hassle than canned salsa—you have to make it fresh each time, because you’re using raw onion and hot pepper, and the longer you let the salsa sit in the fridge, the hotter and more oniony it’ll taste. But the more often you make it, the faster it goes—with practice you can just whip it up. And to me anyway, it feels very worth it. Even more so because of the other secret my husband discovered.
You can make fresh salsa from frozen tomatoes, all winter long.
It’s not as good as the stuff you make in the summer. That would be impossible. But it’s still much better than canned salsa. Much. And it’s actually pretty easy. You can grow all the fresh ingredients in your garden over the summer, and freeze a supply of each of them for the winter—which also makes it very cheap.
What you’ll need to freeze:
Tomatoes: freezing tomatoes is amazingly easy—the only problem is freezer space, so if you don’t have a chest freezer you’ll probably want to start small. Take some nice, very ripe tomatoes, core the stems out, wash them, fill a gallon freezer bag with them, and plunk them in the freezer. When you take them out in the winter, run each tomato under warm water for a few moments until the skin starts to come loose; then you can easily peel it off.
Cilantro: freezing cilantro is also easy. Harvest cilantro from your garden, put it in a big bunch with a rubber band, and chop everything above the rubber band fine with a chef’s knife or scissors. (The stems taste just as good as the leaves, so I prefer this method to taking a lot of time pulling the leaves off.) Fill a freezer bag with the chopped cilantro and put it in the freezer. When you get it out in the winter, you can just crumble a bit off the frozen mass when you need it.
Jalapenos (or other hot peppers): it’s best to tray-freeze these so that they’re loose in the bag & not stuck together. Chop them pretty fine and then lay the pieces flat on a baking sheet in the freezer for half an hour or so till they’re frozen hard. Then, scrape them all off the tray into a freezer bag, and put that in the freezer. Warning: when you chop enough hot peppers to freeze, your hands will most likely be unfit to touch anyone in any sensitive areas for the rest of the day. Plan accordingly, or wear gloves.
For about 2 cups of salsa:
– ½ small onion
– about 2 tablespoons lime juice or 1 tablespoon lemon juice (adjust to taste)
– 2 large tomatoes
– ¼ to ½ cup chopped cilantro
– jalapeno peppers to taste (1 or 2 teaspoons is about what we use)
– 1 clove garlic, optional
– salt to taste
Making fresh summer salsa
Chop all ingredients fairly fine, and mix them in a small serving bowl. Taste as you go; precise proportions aren’t important in this recipe, and adjusting for flavor is encouraged.
If you use a food processor instead of chopping, put all the other ingredients in and process them first, then put the tomatoes in at the very end and give them only one or two pulses, so they don’t disintegrate & make mushy, textureless salsa.
Making frozen-fresh winter salsa
A food processor is a good tool for the winter version, because it’s hard to chop a frozen tomato. If you don’t have a food processor, you’ll want to chop your tomatoes when they are about half-thawed; that’s when it’s easiest.
Run the tomatoes under warm water and peel them, as above; let them continue to thaw in a bowl on the counter or in the microwave as you put the other ingredients in the food processor and mix them. When the tomatoes are mostly thawed, you’ll find there’s standing water or thin juice in the bowl; pour this out, squeezing the tomatoes gently to squeeze out any more excess water you can. (If it comes out thicker & more like juice, you can save it and use it as tomato juice.) Put the tomatoes in the food processor with the rest and give them one or two pulses, till you like the look of the texture. Put your salsa in a small serving bowl, and you’re ready to go.
This recipe would probably serve a family of four; we usually make about half of this for just the two of us.
Heather Munn has a BA in literature from Wheaton College and now lives in a Christian intentional community in rural Illinois, where she and her husband, Paul, host free spiritual retreats especially for those transitioning out of homelessness or addiction. She has published a young adult novel, How Huge the Night, with Kregel Publications.