…With Fresh Tomatoes and Herbs:
(c) 2015, Davd
In Edmonton, where i am now, most home gardens have just begun producing ripe tomatoes in quantity; and most Atlantic Canadian gardens are probably at or near the same stage. Summer Salsa variations feature uncooked tomatoes, chives—and in real summertime, even cilantro1.
My basic technique for making salsa from canned diced tomatoes was posted two autumns ago; click here to go to it. It calls for onion “to taste”; some celery, celery leaf, or liveche; one flat to slightly rounded tablespoon of chili powder; and one slightly rounded teaspoon each of cumin and paprika, per 28 ounce [796 ml] can of diced tomatoes.
Using fresh tomatoes, you can cut them up on a cutting-board, with a knife; or quarter them and let a food processor chop them for several seconds. (For an ordinary sized batch of salsa, i prefer to cut them up by hand, because it’s a hassle to wash a food processor.) I slice each tomato about 1 cm to half an inch thick, then cut the slices into strips, turn the cutting-board, and cut the strips into “diced tomatoes.” If you’re used to making salsa from canned diced tomatoes, you know how full one can fills your pot, so cut up about the same amount and use the same amounts of chili powder, cumin, and paprika… unless you’re sure you want a bigger batch, in which case, scale up all ingredients proportionately.
Instead of onions, if you have a herb garden, you can use a fairly generous amount of chives, cut a centimetre or shorter. A knife on a cutting-board will do this work, but i prefer kitchen scissors (which are sharper and more precise than “kitchen shears”. Mine are Fiskars brand, made in Finland, and have served me well for decades.2. I also use a Fiskars vegetable-knife that i bought decades ago at a yard sale, and it has served me well at least as long—but knives are simpler than scissors.) Chives brighten the salsa with their green colour, and i prefer the flavour to that of regular onions3. Green onion tops are second best.
Those kitchen scissors will also cut up thawed tomatoes in the winter—you can literally dump the soggy textureless thawed tomatoes into the pot and cut them up there with the scissors! It takes a little longer than using a food processor; but there’s a lot of fuss to cleaning a food processor, so i prefer the scissors.
Another variation, if you’re using fried onions, is to fry them in chicken fat if you saved some from boiling a chicken or frying chicken legs. Chicken fat gives a flavour to salsa that i find agreeable—especially if i’m eating salsa and barley or rice, with chicken meat. (I myself don’t find pork or beef fat as appealing in salsa, and they are considered less healthy as well.)
If you grow sweet peppers in your garden and have a surplus, you might try adding some to the salsa… (but in Canada outside southern BC and southern Ontario, maybe the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, that’s not likely.)
The most obvious, and many of you will likely consider the best variation, is to use fresh cilantro at this time of year. You can reduce the amount of cumin you put in your salsa, perhaps even skip cumin altogether, when using cilantro.
Given the many combinations possible among fresh vs. canned tomatoes, chive vs. chopped onion, cilantro vs. cumin vs. both, and perhaps adding sweet peppers, Canadian readers will probably run out of summer before you’ve tried them all. I suggest that fresh tomatoes are the first variation to try, as soon as your garden produces more tomatoes than your household can eat them fresh… but you might find some summers, that you have cilantro ready before you have a surplus of tomatoes; and if you have a big stand of chives, you can start using them in May or June.
What you know of your likes and dislikes will probably guide what variations you choose, and that’s appropriate. Sometimes, the experience of good cooks shows, a combination you tried for the heck of it turns out to be superb, or one you expected would be superb, isn’t. In the case of salsa variations, i expect they’ll always be fit to eat, and those with fresh tomatoes, fit to repeat and to prefer while the abundance lasts.
1. Most summers that i’ve had a garden, i’ve picked red tomatoes even after the first light frosts (during which they were covered with tarps or old fabric [curtain, bedsheet] that was also used as “drop cloths” when painting walls and ceilings.) At the first real freeze, there were usually dozens of green tomatoes to bring inside and allow to ripen in a cool room. So—i had home grown tomatoes later into the autumn, than fresh cilantro.
2. I’ve had less luck with Fiskars and other “good brands” made in China, especially garden shears. My guess is that Finnish industrial discipline is very good; Chinese, so-so.
3. Chives can be frozen for winter use if you have the freezer space. Cut them about the same length—a centimetre or shorter, or about a quarter inch in UK/US measure—and freeze them in food grade plastic containers such as margarine or ice cream tubs. Plastic flexes when thawed, making it easier to get the last of those chives out of the container. I’d say 4-8 litres of cut chives, per person in the household, is the right amount to freeze for one Canadian winter—but if you’re not used to cooking with frozen chive, or you haven’t yet built up a good stand of chive plants, you might freeze less.