The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

It's Salsa Time!

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Salsa adds zip to a meal. We traditionally think of salsa as tomato based and hot, but salsa is just a type of sauce made from many different ingredients. Would you believe there are recipes for strawberry, watermelon, mango or cantaloupe salsa? Fortunately many ingredients including the ever popular tomato are found in abundance now.

The best type of tomato for salsa is the paste tomato. These pear or plum shaped fruits are smaller than standard tomatoes but full of flavor with a very meaty low moisture flesh. Some paste tomato varieties are 'San Marzano,' 'Roma,' 'Viva Italia' (also good for fresh eating), and 'Veeroma.'

Properly harvested tomatoes should be firm and fully colored. They are of highest quality when they ripen on healthy vines and daily summer temperatures average about 75°F. (Yeah right!) When temperatures are high (air temperature of 90°F or more), the softening process is accelerated and color development is slow thereby reducing quality. For this reason, during hot summer weather, pick your tomatoes every day or two. Harvest fruits when color has started to develop and ripen them further indoors (at 70 to 75°F). They do not need sunlight to ripen.

Fresh ripe tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator. Refrigeration makes them tasteless and mushy. Flavor and texture deteriorate at temperatures below 54°F. Temperatures above 80°F cause tomatoes to spoil quickly. Store tomatoes at room temperature for 2 to 3 days, away from direct sunlight until ready to use.

Refrigerate only extra-ripe tomatoes you want to keep from ripening any further. To reverse some of the damage, bring chilled tomatoes to room temperature before serving raw or simply add to cooked preparations.

Many salsa recipes include "kick" from peppers. The degree of hotness in the salsa can be varied by the type, quantity and portion of the peppers used. The main source of the pungency in peppers is capsaicin, which is basically odorless and tasteless. It resides in the inside wall of the pod and the white lining, and is concentrated at the stem end. The pungency is measured in Scoville units, named after the pharmacist, Wilbur Scoville, who developed the measuring system. The range is from 0 for the bell pepper to 350,000 Scoville units for the Mexican "even your eyeballs will sweat" habanero.

Here is one popular salsa or Pico de Gallo recipe.

2 large ripe, red slicing tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 small white onion, chopped
1 green onion, top included, chopped
1 to 3 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, minced
Juice of lime
teaspoon salt

1. Using a serrated knife, chop tomatoes. If using plum tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons water.

2. In a medium bowl, toss together the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro. Squeeze lime juice over the mixture and sprinkle on the salt. Let sit 30 minutes before serving to allow salt to draw juice from the tomatoes. Stir again just before serving. Makes about 2 cups.

To get the scoop on salsa, participate in the "From Your Garden to Your Table: Salsa" workshop sponsored by the U of I Extension Champaign County held on Monday, August 26 from 1-3 p.m. at the U of I Extension auditorium. Learn selection and preparation of ingredients, types and styles of salsa and how to safely freeze, can and store salsa from U of I Extension nutrition and wellness educator Donna Falconnier. Master Gardener Aporn Surintramont will also discuss different types of peppers. As part of the workshop you will have the opportunity to prepare a tomato, vegetable and fruit based salsa to take home. Please register by August 21 by sending the $5 fee to U of I Extension office 801 North Country Fair Drive Champaign IL 61821. For more information, call 333-7672.

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