Gone are the days of canning 30 quarts of watery salsa to be shared with (forced upon) unsuspecting guests. When the next harvest season rolled around, we generally had about half of the jars from the previous season still on the shelves.
The stuff just wasn’t that good. But our good friends down the road were putting up even more quarts of watery salsa, so we really had no choice. It took great skill and dexterity to get a pool of salsa to remain on top of a chip, as it moved from the bowl to the mouth, and a cupped hand below the chip was necessary to reduce the amount that ended up on our guests’ shirt fronts.
But, no more! Old age has brought us enough wisdom to drop out of the quantity competition, and to concentrate on creating a high-quality product. As with the apple sauce, the Mehu-Liisa steamer/juicer shines as the problem solver for watery salsa. Like softening apples, we first cut the tomatoes in half, then fill the steamer. After about 10 minutes the skins wrinkle and soften enough to slip freely from the flesh. While a second batch is softening, we slip off the skins, and fill a large bowl with the skinless tomatoes.
This is a 2 step process, so once all of the tomatoes are skinless, they go back into the steamer for about 20 minutes to extract the juice from the flesh. An occasional stir helps here. The lower collection chamber will fill with extracted juice-all of which formerly became part of our salsa. Check that it does not overflow, and collect this juice to save for cooking soups, risotto, or cook rice in it.
Transfer the pulp to a large stainless steel pot and add the other ingredients. Adding distilled vinegar in the past was never done, since it meant adding even more liquid. I added granular citric acid instead. It is the vinegar, however, that gives salsa that addictive tang. Now we can, and do, add it. Cook and stir the mixture over low heat, being careful that the thick sauce does not burn on the bottom. We want to heat it through, but do not need to boil it.
It is your call whether to add any canned store-bought tomatoes or not. I caved, and added a 28 ounce can of good quality tomato puree’ because I was dealing with our last (October) tomatoes of the season, which were a bit less than prime. Some puree’ makes for a saucier salsa-more like the store-bought stuff.
While the salsa is simmering, invert 5 clean wide-mouth pint jars in the steamer basket, along with the lids, and let them steam sanitize for a good 5 minutes. Remove with a jar lifter, and fill to 1/2″ of headroom. Seal, and process in the steamer for 20 minutes. Repeat until all of the salsa is canned. The recipe below makes about 12 pints.
If you still are hesitant to purchase a steamer/juicer, the halved tomatoes can be placed on a sheet pan, and put under the broiler for 3-4 minutes to loosen the skins. They are then peeled, chopped, sprinkled with about a tablespoon of sea salt, mixed, and allowed to drain over a bowl in a large colander for a good half hour. This method does not extract as much liquid, so added tomato paste may be in order. The jars are then processed in a water bath.
I am not saying that this is an approved method-just one that has worked well for us. If in doubt, follow canning safety guidelines.
12 cups of peeled, chopped and steamed (or drained) tomatoes
2-3 cups chopped onion (we used shallots)
4 cups diced bell pepper
2 cups specialty pepper of your choice. This season we used Habanadas- the heatless habanero peppers.
These peppers are amazing! When lifting the lid on the cooking salsa, the habanero aroma permeates, making us think that this will be a burning-hot salsa. But there is no heat, just an exotic, sweet flavor.
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 and 1/2 cups distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon chili powder (or not)
1 tablespoon all-purpose seasoning (1 part black pepper to 1 part onion powder to 2 parts garlic powder-not onion or garlic salt)
1 tablespoon of sea salt- or to taste
One 28 ounce can of tomato puree’ (optional)
Tomato broth from the steamer, as needed, to thin the sauce (I never thought I would be saying that)
This recipe negates the need for our old trick of adding lots of dehydrated tomatoes to thicken the salsa. This is a good thing, since dried tomatoes, soaked in hot water for a few minutes to plump them up, drained, and drizzled with olive oil, makes for our favorite pizza topping