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 to use
for salsa; however, any type of tomato can be used. Paste tomatoes
are firmer, meatier and produce a thicker sauce than slicing
Select tomatoes with good color, plump shape, blemish-free 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.
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. In many
recipes hot peppers are referred to as chili peppers.
Choose high-quality peppers that are fresh-looking, firm,
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 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, and 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 two to three weeks. Varieties that do not
bolt as quickly are Santo, Leisure, Jantar, Slo Bolt and Long
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.
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Tomatillos, known as Mexican husk tomatoes, resemble green
tomatoes with a papery covering or husk. They are the main
ingredient in authentic Mexican green salsa -- salsa verde -- and
have a tart flavor similar to green apples. Tomatillos are a tender,
warm-season annual that require the same care as tomatoes.
Before eating, remove the dry outer husk. They do not need to be
peeled or seeded.
For more information on growing and harvesting vegetables and
herbs used in tomato salsa, see the North Dakota Extension Service
publication "From the Garden to the Table: Salsa!" at
An easy fresh salsa recipe
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup green bell peppers, finely
1 tablespoon green chili peppers,
finely chopped, fresh or canned
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 fresh garlic clove, finely minced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon lime or lemon juice,
Salt to taste
Rinse all vegetables with water prior to peeling and chopping.
Toss together all ingredients in a medium-size bowl. Chill for at
least 30 minutes. Homemade fresh salsa can be made to suit your
taste buds by increasing or decreasing the amount of hot pepper.
Serve with crisp raw vegetable pieces, such as celery, carrot,
summer squash sticks or baked chips. Use within one to two days.
Yields about 3 cups.
Nutrient analysis per 1/4 cup serving: 11 calories, 0 grams of
fat, 0 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbohydrate, 0 milligrams
cholesterol, 6 milligrams sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 vegetable.
[By JENNIFER FISHBURN, horticulture
University of Illinois Extension, Logan-Menard-Sangamon Unit]