Eco-Saturday: Canning salsa

Homemade salsa makes a great Christmas gift, and it’s nice to have on hand for unexpected potlucks and such.

OK, so canning salsa isn’t really much different than canning pickles, which I showed you how to do a few weeks ago, but tomato season is winding down, and if your garden has been very successful at all, it’s really worth taking an afternoon to learn how to put up salsa so you can have a little taste of summer when the sleet starts coming down. (Alternately, you can buy tomatoes at your local farmer’s market or make friends with a gardener.)

This post is kind of long and detailed, so I’m putting the rest behind the jump to keep from scaring off the tl;dr crowd.

12 to 16 pint jars with rings and new lids; if buying new, get the wide-mouthed kind, as they’re easier to work with
Large stockpot or canner
Jar lifter
Food processor
Garlic peeler (optional, but it really speeds things up)
Cutting board
Big spoon or ladle (a gravy ladle with pointy corners is ideal for this if you have one)
Sharpie marker

(All amounts approximate; adjust to taste)
1 head of garlic
1 bunch of cilantro
As much of your favorite hot pepper as you like (I used about a cup of roasted green chiles, but three or four fresh serranos, jalapenos or Red Peters also provide a nice kick, and you really can’t go wrong with cayenne)
2 limes
2-3 small white onions
4-5 bell peppers (any color)
Ground cumin
Chili powder
About 12 tomatillos
About 24 paste tomatoes (or whatever you have in your garden, but if paste tomatoes are an option, go heavy on those, as slicing tomatoes are much juicier and yield a thinner finished product; I once used nothing but Black from Tula and ended up with the best picante sauce ever)

If you have a dishwasher, throw all the jars and lids in there and run them through a cycle to sterilize them. If you don’t have a dishwasher, just boil the jars and lids to sterilize them like your grandma did.

I think I gave $5 for my garlic peeler at a snooty little kitchen store in Flagstaff. TOTALLY worth it. A rubber jar opener will serve the same purpose if you can’t find a garlic peeler.

Peel the garlic, cut off the brown ends and process until finely minced. Wash cilantro and add to the food processor. Process until cilantro is finely minced and feathery. Add the hot pepper of your choice and process until minced.

Cutting an X in the end of the lime lets the juice out while keeping the seeds in.

Roll each lime back and forth on the countertop a few times, pressing down, to make the juice flow better. Cut an X in one end of each lime and squeeze over the cilantro mix.

Peel and core the onions, cut into big chunks, and process until finely minced.

I used a mix of colorful peppers, but plain green peppers work just as well.

Core the bell peppers, cut into big chunks, and process until chopped to your liking. The peppers and onions probably will make a lot of foam. Don’t worry about it, because once the peppers and onions are all chopped up, you’re going to add cumin until the foam settles down. (I have no idea why the cumin makes the peppers stop frothing, but it does.) Then add enough chili powder to make the mixture look fairly red.

In case you aren’t familiar with tomatillos, this is what they look like. You can make salsa without them, but if you do, add an extra hot pepper or two to make up for the missing kick.

Peel and core tomatillos, cut into chunks as needed, and process until everything is thoroughly chopped up and mixed together.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Core tomatoes, cut into chunks, and process. You want the tomatoes more or less pureed, but leave some small chunks for texture. Unless you have a ginormous food processor, you’ll probably have to do this in four or five batches.

Stir pureed tomatoes into tomatillo mixture.

At this point, you’ll have about two gallons of salsa. If you want to can all of it, you’ll need 16 jars. If you’d rather not buy more than one 12-pack of jars, you can put the extra half-gallon in a sealed container and store it in the fridge for a few days. I’ve made myself popular in several newsrooms by bringing chips and fresh salsa to share with colleagues. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like fresh salsa.

Using a ladle or big spoon, fill each jar with salsa, leaving about a half-inch of headspace at the top. Wipe off the top of each jar, put the lid on, and screw down the ring as tightly as possible. Put as many jars as you can in your stockpot or canner, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Let the jars boil for 10 minutes, use jar lifter to remove jars from water, and let them cool down on the counter. (A big wooden cutting board makes an awesome trivet for this purpose.)

As the jars cool, you’ll hear them make the distinctive “Plink!” sound as the change in temperature creates a vacuum seal.

The circles in the centers of the lids should be flat or concave. If they’re sticking up, the jars didn’t seal right.

When all the jars have cooled, inspect the tops. If they’ve sealed correctly, the safety button in the middle of each lid should be concave instead of convex at this point, and you shouldn’t hear or feel it flex when you press on it. Remove the rings and try to pull each lid off with your fingers. If a lid comes off when you pull on it, put the ring back on, stick that jar in the fridge and use it up within a couple of weeks, as it hasn’t sealed properly.

Write the year on top of each lid with a Sharpie. Canned salsa will keep safely for at least a year. I wouldn’t try it much past that, but salsa never lasts that long at our house anyway.

You can use the same process to can tomatoes; just add a half-teaspoon or so of lemon or lime juice to each jar to increase the acid content, and cover the tomatoes with water, leaving the usual half-inch of headspace. Diced tomatoes are good to have on hand for making chili in the winter.

Happy canning! (And if you’re not up for canning, you can halve this recipe easily to make fresh salsa for parties or potlucks.)


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