Texas Salsa from Author Gail Dayton

August 15, 2010

Note: I imported all of my posts from Whipped Out but I’ve been trying to go through and grab tutorials and some of the recipes that I didn’t post, so we still have them. This was one of those.

Hi, y’all! Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Joyous [Insert your Holiday of Preference]!

I am a writer. Heart’s Blood (steampunk fantasy romance) will be out in January, but I actually spend more time cooking, taking care of family members and doing laundry than I do writing. (Cleaning? What’s that?) Yeah, I’m a writer, but I’m a wife and daughter and mom and grandmother first.

I’ve been enjoying the Whipped Out blog since it started, partly because it makes me think about cooking and creativity and other stuff. For instance:

Some folks talk about how America is becoming homogenized, and people eat the same things everywhere in the country’which is true. I love learning about and trying new recipes from all over the world, like many of you.

But eating patterns&mndash;especially favorites and holiday foods—are still regional, and cultural. I contend that a person’s culture can be determined by what they eat on holidays. For instance, if you eat latkes on Hanukkah, (of sweet potatoes or white) one can be fairly certain that you are Jewish. Those who eat haggis on Hogmanay have got to be Scottish, because who else would eat haggis? (I have tasted haggis, and actually, it’s not that bad. It’s not that great…but it’s not awful. It just sounds awful.)

And of course, if you have tamales on Christmas Eve and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, it’s a sure bet that you are a Texan. Texas is both part of the Old South and on the Mexican border, so we get both in our food culture. Even those with Spanish surnames who have been born and raised in Texas will eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s. They’re not going to pass up any chance for luck.

Being a Texan, I have made tamales from scratch—but they are definitely labor-intensive, so unless I have a big bunch of people available for the labor, I’ll hit up one of the local Mexican restaurants for my couple dozen Christmas Eve tamales, and make the salsa to go with them.

Pace Picante Sauce isn’t bad, if that’s all you can get, but even in the dead of winter, it’s just about as cheap to make your own, and it tastes a LOT better.

I made a batch of salsa last week, and thought of the Whipped Out gang, so I’m going to share the (very adjustable) recipe with y’all. (I only have pictures—of the end product—because I didn’t think of blogging about it till after it was cooking… You can see how full the pot was to start with. Also, notice how the chip isn’t sinking. The big pink-red tomato chunks are the tomatoes out of the can.) This batch made about a gallon of salsa. I had one quart jar, plus 3 quart-sized Tupperware containers full. Very full.


1. TOMATOES. Start with several pounds of tomatoes. Whatever’s cheapest and as ripe as you can get them. Roma, Beefsteak—anything but cherry (I don’t use them because they’re expensive and it’s hard to get enough, but if you have your own plants and your bowl runneth over, then use ’em!). They all work. One summer I bought a whole flat of seconds at the fruit stand in Hedley, Texas for $4. They don’t have to be pretty. They can even be a little uber-ripe. If tomatoes are really expensive, you can fill in with cans of diced tomatoes. That works just fine. You will adjust your amounts of other things according to how many tomatoes you have.

In my most recent batch, I used about 4 pounds of fresh Roma tomatoes and two big cans of diced. (I should have bought petite diced, because the canned tomatoes were in Big chunks.) This batch filled my Dutch oven to the top before it started cooking.

2. ONIONS. Get about half as many onions as you have tomatoes, by size, not weight. If your pile of tomatoes fills your Dutch oven (before they’re chopped), then you’ll need onions to half fill it.

I used 1 1/2 of those big sweet 1015 onions in my recent batch. (They were Big onions. Smaller onions, I’d probably have used 2 1/2. I had a half onion sitting in my fridge already, waiting to be used, so I used it.)

3. JALAPENO PEPPERS. This is the tricky part. You will want about half as many peppers as you have onions. However. Peppers have varying amounts of heat depending on what season they were grown in, how big they are, and how hot it was. Really. Big fat early spring peppers are usually fairly mild. Little August peppers will turn your eyeballs inside out. Also, the real Heat of the pepper is in the seeds. If you want a milder salsa, buy the bigger peppers and take out all the seeds. If you want it hotter, look for the smaller peppers, and leave the seeds in. Even then, it’s still a guesstimate as to how hot the salsa will be. Because you just can’t tell.

I used two medium-sized jalapenos in my batch, and left in half the seeds. (I like a medium hot salsa—this came out perfect.)

4. CILANTRO. Also known as Chinese parsley, so if Mexican foods are less available where you are, look at the Asian foods. It’s sold by the bunch, like parsley, and has a very strong pungent flavor. Until it’s dried, then it has no flavor at all that I can tell. I like cilantro, but some people don’t, so you can adjust this to your taste. Still, I think a good salsa really needs some cilantro.

I used half the bunch of cilantro in my batch. (It’s Strong! I’m going to use the rest of it in a carne guisada, and in my black-eyed peas.)

5. SPICES. This is one of those ‘to taste’ things. In my Dutch oven sized batch, I used: Oregano (preferably Mexican) ‘ about 1 tablespoon

Salt — maybe a couple of teaspoons. (I didn’t really measure)

Ground cumin — about a teaspoon

Black pepper — just over half a teaspoon

Cayenne pepper — about half a teaspoon

6. VINEGAR. This goes in last, and I think gives the salsa a really tart edge that I like. It also makes it possible to can the salsa with a water bath process. (I usually freeze the extras, but I used to can it.)

This size batch needs at least a cup of vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is the best with it, but you can use whatever vinegar you have. Larger batches need up to 2 cups.

To make it, you chop the tomatoes, onions, peppers and cilantro fine’I put them in my food processor and zizz them up till they’re chunky, but not too chunky. If you think a tortilla chip will have trouble dipping up a chunk, you might chop it some more. I usually do a couple of tomatoes plus half an onion, or a pepper, or a bunch of cilantro in each food processor batch. Tomato, plus something else. As you chop, dump it into your cookpot. You can go ahead and turn on the heat. It’s going to be cooking a long time. All the juices, everything goes in.

Once everything is chopped, add the spices and the vinegar, and bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to a fast simmer and let it cook. And cook, and cook. Don’t cover it. It’s going to be juicy enough it won’t stick, but you’ll want to come stir it every so often. Your whole house will smell Amazing.

Cook it down to a nice, thick sludge. It will still be plenty juicy, but thick salsas are best. I have likened properly thickened salsa to the mud pots at Yellowstone Park. Instead of bubbling, they sort of bloop.

When I make this in the summer (when tomatoes are cheap-ish), I usually start it cooking around 9 p.m., because it heats the whole house up so much. Then I cook it until I just can’t stay up any more. I made this winter batch in mid-afternoon, so I got it cooked down just right.

Once it’s thick, it’s ready to eat, put in jars to can, or stick in Tupperware to freeze. And yes, hot-from-the-stove salsa is good to eat just the way it is. Some restaurants serve it hot. It’s good any old way you want to eat it.

Bonus recipe: I make guacamole with my homemade salsa. Just mash up a ripe avocado with a few big spoons of salsa, a little Worcestershire sauce, a squeeze of lemon juice and a little extra garlic/garlic salt, and you have a Very Good guacamole. Yum!

All recipes at a glance: