Ever since my first cell phone with a camera I’ve been dangerous in the grocery store! I keep snapping photos of stuff I can’t believe exists in the food chain. Here we have a packet of “Hot Salsa Mix”. When I saw it strategically placed next to the produce display of fresh tomatoes I just about popped a contact lens rolling my eyes in disbelief. Earlier this week I did a nutrition class for a local Brownie Scout troop. These bright 6, 7 and 8 year old children caught on very quickly that real food doesn’t have strange chemical names you can’t pronounce, and real food is grown outside not in a giant processing plant. After we talked I had the girls (with some mommy helpers to use the sharp knives) chop up some fresh vegetables, squeeze a lemon and mix up some awesome salsa. It probably took a little longer than it should have since it was salsa-by-committee but still I don’t think it took more than a few minutes. Those girls eagerly dug in to the tantalizingly fragrant bowl of colorful veggies. They all said they were going home and making this again!
That is why this packet from the produce aisle caused me such grief. Here we have maltodextrin, tomato powder, sugar, modified corn starch, “spice”, natural flavors, powdered lime juice, artificial flavor and citric acid conveniently packaged up (and several of these ingredients are absolutely GMO too!) so we can have an “authentic blend of peppers, garlic and Mexican seasonings with ripe tomatoes and diced onion to create a fresh and spicy salsa.” The trouble is I just don’t see any cilantro, oregano, garlic, or jalapeno peppers, which are the real “authentic Mexican seasonings”, anywhere on the ingredient list. Spice, natural flavors and artificial flavors could be anything, anything at all. (Remember Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution ice cream sundaes with all-natural beaver gland flavor toppings!)
Since we have to chop up tomatoes and onions anyhow, let’s go ahead and go the whole nine yards and chop up the rest of the ingredients and make ourselves some honest-to-goodness real salsa. This salsa has something else the packet mix doesn’t have – this one has beneficial probiotics! If you have been wanting to take the first step into fermented vegetables this is the one to start with. It’s easy to do and the results are something delicious and familiar, because everyone has had salsa before!
Homemade Fermented Salsa
4 ripe tomatoes 1 bunch cilantro or parsley
1 or 2 peppers (spicy or mild or both)
1 large onion 4-6 cloves of garlic
1 Tblsp sea salt 4 Tblsp of whey*
2 lemons 1-2 stems of fresh oregano
Have a large cutting board, sharp knife, large bowl and a quart-sized mason jar ready. I like to peel my tomatoes but you can skip this step if you don’t mind the skins. I peel tomatoes quickly by making an X cut on the bottom of the tomato and slipping it into a small pan of boiling water for about 30 seconds. The skins slip right off when you take them out of the water. You will need to scoop the seeds out which is also easy, just hold the cut half of a tomato in your hand and squeeze gently, then use your fingers to swipe out the seeds in one clump.
Use your sharp knife to dice the tomatoes, onions and peppers. Place them in the large bowl. Mince or press the garlic and add it to the bowl. Chop up the cilantro or parsley, and strip the leaves off the oregano and chop them up too. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl over the veggies and herbs. Now sprinkle the sea salt over everything and mix well. Add the whey and mix thoroughly.
Scoop everything into the mason jar and use a long-handled spoon to make sure everything is solidly packed into the jar. Bump the jar on the counter to settle everyting. Fill it to about an inch below the rim of the jar. If there isn’t enough of the juices to cover the top of the vegetables add in a little filtered water to cover. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean towel and cover tightly with the jar lid.
Now comes the fun part. Set the jar of salsa in an out-of-the-way spot on your counter or in a cupboard where it won’t be disturbed. Let it stay there for two days. At the end of the two days check to see how you’ve done. Hold the jar in a towel or over the sink and open the lid. It is perfectly fine to see fizzing or bubbles, the lid may even make a “pop” like opening a soda bottle. Next you give the salsa a good sniff. It should smell delicious and garlicky and tomato-y. If it smells good then you have done it! Congratulations!
*whey is the key to successful fermentation here. Whey is the clear liquid that drains out when you place cultured yogurt or kefir in a cheesecloth or coffee filter to drain. When the whey has drained into the bowl, save it in a jar in the refrigerator and use it to make delicious fermented vegetables. Use the thickened yogurt or kefir in recipes calling for cream cheese.