The main reason I garden is so I can make fresh salsa. Unfortunately, despite the fact that we planted 32 tomato vines this year, we have yet to bring in a big enough harvest to make a batch of salsa enormous enough to justify breaking out the canner.
We do, however, have a surplus of cucumbers, thanks in large part to the volunteer vine that came up in the middle of the garden. I’ve never seen a more productive vine than this volunteer, which is some kind of multipurpose variety that’s smallish and black-spined like a pickler, but firm enough to hold its own as a slicer.
Ron loves tomatoes and hates cucumbers, so I’ve built up quite a surplus, despite regular trips to visit friends, a grocery bag full of cucumbers in hand.
This afternoon, I took care of that surplus. I love cold cucumber soup. I love gazpacho. And while I had the food processor out, I decided to try something.
Home-grown tomatoes are infinitely more flavorful than the store-bought kind, and I have, in a pinch, made a respectable batch of salsa with tomatoes from the grocery store. I got to thinking about it, and I decided that if I could make decent salsa out of grocery-store tomatoes (which have less flavor than the average cucumber anyway, and roughly the same texture), I could probably substitute cucumbers for half the homegrown tomatoes in my salsa recipe and come up with something worth eating. I was right — the substitution worked fine.
When I’m talking about salsa, I use the term “recipe” loosely. But this is basically the way you make it:
Boatload of tomatoes
About half a boatload of tomatillos, if you have them
About half a boatload of sweet peppers (bell, banana, Nardello, poblano, whatever)
About one-tenth boatload of onion — preferably yellow, but anything will work
Bunch of cilantro
As much garlic as you want
Whatever hot peppers you’ve got on hand
Cucumbers, if you have some you need to use up
Chunk up all your vegetables with a big ol’ chef’s knife. If the onion and garlic seem hot, saute them lightly in olive oil to knock off the edge.
Put the garlic, hot peppers, and cilantro in your food processor and whirl ’em at high speed until they’re minced very finely. The mixture will be stuck all over the sides when you finish. Add enough lime juice to sort of loosen it up, add your onion, and process again. Add your sweet peppers, tomatillos, and cucumbers, if you’re using them. Process again.
You’ll end up with a slightly chunky, light green froth. Dump it into a big bowl and add enough cumin to knock down the froth a little bit. Toss your tomatoes into the food processor and process until they’re whatever texture you like.
Stir the tomatoes into the pepper and onion mixture. The whole mess will look pale. Add enough chili powder to make your salsa respectably red. If it doesn’t taste right, add more of whatever seems to be missing. There’s no big secret to it; you just have to dink around with it until it tastes the way you want it.
Chill as long as you can stand to wait and serve with tortilla chips. If your grocery store carries those ultra-thin Tia Rosa chips, get some — they’re killer.
If you have a lot of salsa, you can put it up in pint jars (leave about an inch of headspace) and process in a boiling-water bath for 30 minutes. As canning goes, salsa is pretty idiot-proof, but read this article if you’ve never done it before. Call your mama if you still aren’t sure how to do it. If she doesn’t know, call the extension service.
Oh, and here’s a free tip: If you use habanero peppers, they can overpower all the other flavors quickly. To prevent that, pierce each pepper to keep it from blowing up, throw it in a dish of water with a chopped-up carrot, and nuke it until the carrot is soft. The carrot will draw a lot of the heat out of the pepper, leaving behind the flavor. Habaneros have a lovely, delicate flavor, but you have to draw out some of the capsaicin to get to it.