NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665

September 2, 1999

Prairie Fare: Salsa: I'd Like Mine Extra-Sassy, Please

I've learned a thing or two about salsa making. One is that I'm lucky to be alive. A stretch, maybe, but at the very least, I'm thankful I haven't gotten extremely sick (and my wife Nicki too) from eating our home-canned salsa.

For this near-calamity, I take full responsibility because I'm the one who likes to experiment with recipes. I've come to learn that messing with proportions is a foolhardy undertaking when it comes to canning--one that virtually guarantees dire consequences. So I'm now a reformed follower of the rules, but only when it comes to canning.

I'm still a no-holds-barred experimenter when it comes to making fresh salsa, the ingredients for which come from our garden that Nicki tends. Depending upon my mood, I may add a pinch more of chopped Thai chili and a handful more of cilantro. And, a garlic clove or two--or five--more than Nicki thinks is warranted. Or, I might eliminate something altogether if I sense the ingredient serves only to make my salsa wimpy. Bell pepper usually qualifies.

Of course, I'm creating a mental picture here, and it's of the traditional way we think of salsa--the Mexican way. After all, the word "salsa" has its origin in the Spanish language.

But I've also learned that salsa has international appeal and regional variations perhaps unequaled by any other food. A case in point: among the salsa recipes I recently perused on the Internet were those for toasted corn salsa, basil-bacon salsa, tomato-avocado salsa and cranberry-apple salsa. Actually, I think the cranberry-apple salsa could pass for a chutney, which is an Indian condiment featuring various fruits, spices, vinegar and sugar. The same goes for salsa recipes I've seen that include fresh mango or papaya or pineapple.

Cucumber salsa? Why not, I say. After all, certain relishes I've eaten could be confused with salsa. A first-cousin perhaps, or maybe a sibling. Salsa ... it's not just for corn chips anymore. That's the real lesson to be learned, along with knowing what to can and what not to can.

The USDA-tested recipe that follows is safe to use for canning. I'd suggest adding more cumin, especially if you enjoy the flavor of tacos.

Tomato/Tomato Paste Salsa

Yield: 7 pints

3 quarts peeled, cored, chopped slicing tomatoes
3 cups chopped onions
6 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
4 long green chilies, seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon each--salt and sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin*
2 tablespoons oregano leaves*
2 12-ounce cans tomato paste
2 cups bottled lemon juice

*Spice amounts may be adjusted. Do not make other adjustments to this recipe.

Wash tomatoes. Dip in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until skins split and then dip in cold water. Slip off skins, remove cores and chop. Wear rubber gloves while seeding and chopping jalapenos and chilies, or in lieu of gloves, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling peppers--washing for at least 20 seconds. With the tomatoes, chilies and jalapenos prepared, combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and heat, stirring frequently, until mixture boils. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle hot mixture into pint jars, leaving a -inch headspace. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes at altitudes of 1,000 feet or less and for 20 minutes at higher elevations.

What's Your Take on This, Julie?

If you happen to be male or if you happen to know a man or two, you may want to read further. September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and foods such as tomatoes may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

Fruits and vegetables contain numerous plant chemicals (phytochemicals). One found in tomatoes is lycopene, a red carotenoid pigment with antioxidant properties that researchers have linked with reducing prostate cancer risk. Cooking the tomatoes, as in sauces and soups, tends to release more lycopene and makes it easier for our bodies to absorb this chemical. For example, the lycopene in tomato paste is absorbed 2.5 times more readily than lycopene from fresh tomatoes.

Other salsa ingredients also have health benefits. The onions in salsa contain allylic sulfides, which may reduce our risk of stomach cancer. Capsaicin, which is responsible for the heat in peppers, may help alleviate arthritic pain.

If you plan to enjoy homemade salsa this winter, be sure to use research-tested canning recipes; otherwise, freeze your own creations for safety. Onions and peppers decrease the acid content of salsa, but research-tested recipes compensate for this decrease through the addition of lemon juice or vinegar. With the exception of altering spice amounts, USDA canning recipes should not be modified, and always follow the processing times that each recipe specifies. Botulism, a potentially fatal form of foodborne illness, is a risk with improperly home-canned food.

Some kids and adults grimace at the thought of eating tomatoes, especially cooked tomatoes, but this week's recipe is a flavorful way to incorporate more tomatoes into your diet. At about 25 calories and only a trace of fat per quarter cup, Tomato/Tomato Paste Salsa won't expand your waistline. A quarter cup also contains nearly 50 percent of the recommended daily vitamin C, mainly from the peppers, so eat up.

To keep the fat content of your snacks low, pair salsa--America's No. 1 condiment--with baked tortilla chips. And remember to enjoy at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, for their flavor and color as well as potential health benefits. For more information about canning tomatoes and salsa, as well as other food and nutrition topics, visit the NDSU Extension Service Web site at


Sources: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136
Julie Garden-Robinson (701) 231-7187


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