This week I had a bumper crop of ripe, red tomatoes. That could only mean one thing. It was time to can some pints of Zesty Salsa.
I got my Zesty Salsa recipe several years ago from my friend Meeghan. It’s the best salsa recipe I’ve found. Ideally, it would probably be best to use a meaty tomato such as a Roma. But of course, that’s not what I had. I used a combination of tomato varieties from my garden. I picked every tomato that was ripe — reds, pinks, and yellows. The flavors would blend together nicely.
With jars prepped and tomatoes washed, I cut the top off the stem end of each tomato and discarded it. I used my finger to dig out as much of the seed cavity as possible so that my salsa wouldn’t be too seedy or watery. I remove as much as I can and I don’t worry if I don’t get it all.
Next, I chopped the tomatoes into bite-size chunks. If you have a food processor that will do this then your machine is better than mine. Mine turns tomatoes into mush, so that step had to be done by hand. I had so many tomatoes that I doubled the recipe. I chopped about 20 cups of tomatoes.
My recipe calls for 5 cups of chopped onions or 10 cups since I was doubling. These I could chop in the food processor. I used Oh-so-Sweet onions. I should have refrigerated them in advance because they made me cry! (Cold onions give off fewer fumes). As I was chopping, I saw that 10 cups of onion would be too much. I added eight cups and stopped there. My onions were so strong that I could have used even less.
I had bought a bag of green peppers at the market. As I read down through the recipe however, I saw a note I’d added that says, “Don’t use green ones.” Green peppers must have added a flavor to the salsa that we didn’t like. I sent my husband to the store to buy either red, yellow, or orange bell peppers. He came home with a combination of all three. Eight peppers gave me the 10 cups needed for my doubled recipe.
Judging the type of hot pepper to use, and how many, is always the hardest part of this recipe. We don’t mind our salsa to be a little zesty but we draw the line at “hot” and really prefer a mild salsa. I never add more than half the hot peppers that the recipe calls for. I used 2 ½ cups of a hot yellow banana pepper which has the least heat of the hot peppers I had to choose from at the market.
I added the remaining ingredients to my sauce pan and put it on the stove. If you want a thick salsa you will have to cook it a long time. I prefer a fresher flavor and I don’t mind if it’s thinner so I allowed mine to boil for only a couple of minutes.
It may seem unimportant, but don’t omit the tomato paste. I left it out one year and while it didn’t make a big difference in the flavor, it made a huge difference in appearance. Forgetting the tomato paste will result in a watery pink salsa instead of the rich, deep red that you want.
Zesty Salsa for Canning
- 10 cups roughly chopped tomatoes
- 5 cups chopped and seeded bell peppers
- 5 cups chopped onions
- 2 1/2 cups hot peppers, chopped and seeded
- 1 1/4 cups cider vinegar
- three garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
- 3 teaspoons salt
- one (6 ounce) can tomato paste
Combine all ingredients except tomato paste in a large pot. Simmer until desired thickness. Stir in tomato paste. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process 15 min. in a hot water bath.
Note: use more hot peppers for a hot salsa or less for mild.
Makes approximately 6 pints