Salsa can be a fun way to preserve peak-of-season tomatoes to enjoy all year. Most salsa recipes are a tasty mixture of low-acid foods, such as onions and sweet or hot peppers, and acid foods, such as tomatoes.
For safety from botulism risk, tomato-vegetable mixtures require appropriate preservation methods depending on the proportions of tomato to all other vegetables. Use tested recipes to ensure proper acidification.
Use the amounts of each vegetable listed in the recipe. If desired, green tomatoes or tomatillos may be substituted for part or all of the tomatoes.
Paste tomatoes, such as Roma, have firmer flesh and produce thicker salsas than large slicing tomatoes. Slicing tomatoes usually yield a thinner, more watery salsa than paste tomatoes.
Always use the quantity of chopped tomatoes listed in the recipe, but to create a thicker salsa, drain off some of the liquid after chopping the tomatoes.
Some recipes call for peeled tomatoes. Remove the skin by dipping tomatoes in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until the skin splits. Then dip in cold water, slip the skins off and remove cores and seeds.
Peppers range from mild to fiery in taste. Jalapenos are the most popular hot pepper. Do not increase the total amount of peppers in any recipe. However, any type pepper may be substituted for another.
Canned chilies may also be used in place of fresh. As a caution, wear plastic or rubber gloves and do not touch your face while handling or cutting hot peppers.
Salsa is preserved by adding acid. You must add acid to salsas processed in a boiling water canner because the natural acidity may not be high enough.
Commonly used acids in home canning are vinegar and lemon juice. Use only vinegar that is at least 5 percent acid, or bottled lemon or lime juice.
If desired, you may safely substitute an equal amount of lemon juice for vinegar in a recipe that calls for vinegar. However, do not substitute vinegar for lemon juice. This substitution will result in a less acid and potentially unsafe salsa.
Spices add flavor to salsas. Dried spices do not affect acidity or safety and may be adjusted as desired. Do not increase the amount of fresh herbs as they will lose flavor during the heat processing. For a stronger, fresher flavor, add fresh cilantro just before serving.
Do not thicken salsas with flour or cornstarch before canning. Instead, after opening a jar to use, you may pour off some of the liquid or thicken with cornstarch at that time.
For safe home canning, follow only research-tested recipes. Process in a boiling water canner for the recommended time and remember to increase the processing time for the elevation.
Salsa recipes can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, nchfp.uga.edu/index.html or CSU Extension, www.ext.colostate.edu/pub/pubs.html.
Master food safety volunteers are available at 625-3969 to answer questions.
- Carla Farrand and Deb Martin are master food safety advisors for Colorado State University Extension in Garfield County.