3 Great Homemade Salsas

Seems everyone has too many tomatoes around here these days, so here are some more tomato recipes. 

For me, nothing beats fresh summer salsa made from homegrown tomatoes, but in the dark days of winter some home canned or frozen salsa tastes quite wonderful.

Here are 3 ways to make your own salsa, ranging from simple to complex. Any of these recipes can be eaten right away, and all can be preserved for later enjoyment. Even if you don't do home canning, a cooked salsa like any of these freezes very well.

SALSA 1:  Packaged Mix (makes as little as 1 pint)

Rated: Easy

There's a line of salsa mixes and other canning products called "Mrs. Wages®." The ingredients are all natural, basically a mix of dehydrated vegetables, herbs, salt, and spices. Choose the spice mix suited to your taste - Classic Salsa, Hot Salsa, Jalapeno Salsa, Verde, Habanero, etc. - and simply add chopped tomatoes and vinegar! The package says you can even use canned tomatoes from the supermarket. Boil, simmer, then eat, freeze or can. These mixes are available for small quantities, like just one pint, so you won't be overwhelmed. Or use several packages to increase the quantity.

SALSA 2: Simple Salsa (makes 6-8 pints)

Rated: Moderate

I made this salsa in a canning class conducted by our county extension service. I like the simplicity of just a few ingredients. The peppers can be roasted and peeled if you want a slightly more complex flavor, but I don't find this makes much difference. You can vary the balance of hot and sweet peppers to suit your level of heat. If you preserve this for eating in the off-season, you can add chopped fresh cilantro when you are ready to serve it.

5 lbs. tomatoes
2 lbs. chile peppers (or a mixture of hot peppers and sweet peppers, according to your taste)
1 lb. onion
1 cup vinegar
3 t salt
1/2 t pepper

Wash tomatoes. Scald 30-60 seconds in boiling water. Dip into cold water. Cut out cores. Remove skins. Chop tomatoes coarsely, put into a big kettle. Chop peppers in fine dice, wearing gloves to protect from hot peppers; add to kettle. Peel and chop onion into fine dice; add to kettle. Add remaining ingredients, cook over high heat so it boils for 20 minutes. For canning, fill prepared jars with hot mixture, leaving 1/2" headspace, and process in hot water bath for 20 minutes. For freezing, let the mixture cool then freeze in individual serving size freezer containers.

SALSA 3: Judy's Favorite Salsa for Canning (makes 16 pints)

Rated:  Complex… but worth it!

This cooked salsa is the closest I've found to my favorite fresh uncooked salsa, the recipe created by our friend Bob (sorry, he won't let me share his recipe). I like a thick, hot salsa, and that's how this comes out. It uses a lot of tomatoes and hot peppers, so it makes a large batch. (When I am going to all the work of canning, I like to do a lot at once, to make the set up worthwhile). I canned mine and ended up with 16 pints. I used lots of my kitchen aids and did the preparation of the ingredients on Day 1 (storing the uncooked tomatoes in a big kettle in the fridge, and all the other ingredients in a covered container in the fridge), then finishing with the cooking and canning on Day 2.

2-1/2 gallons of tomatoes
18 oz. (3 small cans) tomato paste

I process the tomatoes in my Roma food strainer, using the salsa screen. This separates the skins from the rich, thick sauce. Conversely, you can prepare the tomatoes by hand: scald 30-60 seconds in boiling water; dip into cold water; cut out cores; peel off skins; chop tomatoes coarsely. Put the tomatoes and tomato paste into a big kettle. Cook over high heat until reduced in volume about 1/3, at least 45 minutes. This will thicken it nicely.

Meanwhile, prepared the additional ingredients, mixing them in a large bowl. I juiced the limes with my electric juicer and I did all the chopping by pulsing individual ingredients in my food processor:
Juice of 6 limes (1 cup total)
2 c packed chopped fresh cilantro
1 large onion, chopped
1 head garlic, peeled and chopped
3 banana peppers, seeded
15 jalapeno peppers, seeding 3/4 of them (caution: wear gloves when handling hot peppers)
1 t ground cumin
1/4 c cider vinegar

When the tomatoes have cooked, add all the other ingredients. Cook 5 minutes, until boiling again. For canning, fill prepared jars with hot salsa mixture, leaving 1/2" headspace, and process in hot water bath for 20 minutes. For freezing, let the mixture cool then freeze in individual serving size freezer containers. Or refrigerate and eat some right away!


Easy Homemade Tomato Paste

 Simple ingredients, quick procedure, easy storage, and delicious! I thought it was so cool to make my own tomato paste when I found this recipe online. I followed the instructions exactly, although I am not sure about the necessity of the final low-temperature baking step. I had such wonderful results, that I quickly applied the same method to creating a fabulous marinara sauce recipe (below).

(makes 1/2 cup)
  • 1 lb. fresh ripe tomatoes (about 3-4)
  • 1/4 sweet bell pepper (green or red)
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
Core and quarter the tomatoes. Process all ingredients in a blender until smooth. (My Vitamix super-blender works great for this, pulverizing all the tomato seeds and skin.) Pour the liquid into a 3-qt. saucepan and bring to a boil. From the blender adding lots of air, the mix will be foamy and the foam will rise in the pot, so be prepared to stir and/or reduce the heat slightly. Let it boil for 8 minutes - halfway through the foaming will disappear.

Pour the mixture into a mesh cloth jelly bag, or line a strainer with coffee filters, and place over a bowl to collect the liquid. Strain for 30 minutes. (You can reserve the strained off liquid for soup stock or for a flavorful liquid for cooking rice.) Spoon the thick paste into a heat-proof mason jar and bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 250°. Remove from the oven and cool. Smooth the top surface with a spatula, then pour a skin of olive oil to coat the top of the tomato paste, cap the jar, and store in the refrigerator. As you use the tomato paste, recover the top with a glaze of oil and it will keep for months. Alternately, you could freeze dollops in ice cube trays, then pop them out and bag them, having them available to thaw whenever the need arises. NOTE: I doubled this recipe and the results were perfection!

I think you could use this as a basis for homemade catsup (ketchup) too, just adding a little vinegar and sweetener, maybe some dry mustard or ground cinnamon - I'll try it myself next time I grill fresh marinated whole okra!


I've made homemade tomato sauce many times, chopping ingredients by hand or processing loads of tomatoes in my ROMA food strainer, or chopping everything in my Vitamix then low cooking it for hours to thicken the sauce. After making the tomato paste recipe above, I experimented and made the recipe below. So much faster and easier than any I've ever made before.

makes about 1 quart
  • 5 lb. fresh ripe tomatoes (12-15), cored and cut in quarters
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut in half
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 sweet pepper, stem and seeds removed
  • 2 t salt
  • 2 t fennel seeds
  • 2 t dry marjoram or oregano
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh basil
Process all the ingredients in a super blender, like a VItamix, in 3 batches so you don't overfill the blender and end up with a tomato mess when the top blows off! The Vitamix will pulverize everything, making a foamy, smooth pinkish liquid.

Pour all the processed ingredients into a tall cooking pot. and bring to a boil. It will be foamy and the foam will rise in the pot, so be prepared to stir and/or reduce the heat slightly. Let it boil for 8 minutes - halfway through the foaming will disappear.

Pour the mixture into a mesh cloth jelly bag, or line a strainer with coffee filters, and place over a bowl to collect the liquid. Strain for 30 minutes. (You can reserve the strained off liquid for soup stock or for a flavorful liquid for cooking rice.)

I like it as thick as possible, and used the contents of the mesh bag for my sauce, but you might want to stir back some of the drained liquid to create the sauce consistency you prefer.

Try these recipes now while garden fresh tomatoes are available. Freeze well, so you can enjoy them all year 'round


What's with Wheat?

Are you overweight, diabetic, suffering from arthritis, heart disease, allergies, rashes, acid-reflux, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, pre-diabetes, estrogen related cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, Crohn's disease, constipation, high blood triglycerides, insomnia, cravings...or a belly you can't shed? I don't know too many people - especially in the baby-boomer generation - who can't find something they experience on this list.

I strongly recommend a book I just finished which is on the NY Times bestseller list: Wheat Belly, by William Davis, MD, a preventive cardiologist. This book is not just for people who are gluten-intolerant or thinking they have celiac disease, although it is good for all of those to read too, it's for everyone to read and benefit.

The basic premise of the book is that "…traditional wheat has been replaced by the high-yield, semi-dwarf strains that we know are genetically removed from the wheat of 1950." The hybridization of the wheat now grown worldwide has changed the way it affects our biochemistry, compared to ancient grains certainly, but even when compared to wheat grown 100 years ago. And this alteration is affecting us in many many negative ways.

You can get more of the flavor of the book at the author's blog:

Read a review of the book, including the author's comments.

Me and my husband Rick eliminated wheat from our diet over two weeks ago, after I read a lot of the blog. A wheat-free diet takes some adjusting, label reading, menu reading, and self-education, but it's been painless (literally). There are loads of tips on how to do it in the book, including recipes, and there's lots of helpful info online too. We've all seen the supermarket shelves full of "Gluten-Free" labeled products, but, as the author warns, you don't want to substitute other non-healthy foods when you eliminate wheat.

I'll report on my own progress in this blog, and I hope you'll read the book, at the very least.

From the author:
"…the U.S. government, with its repeated advice to 'eat more healthy whole grains,' transmitted via vehicles like the USDA Food Pyramid and Food Plate, coupled with the extensive genetic transformations of the wheat plant introduced by agricultural geneticists, underlie an incredible deterioration in American health…." - William Davis, MD


I'll Never Buy Garlic Again

Fifteen pounds - that's my recent harvest of garlic which I planted last September. Even for someone like me, who cooks from scratch and loves garlic, that's a lot! I had planted a few different varieties, including many cloves of elephant garlic. Many say this is a less strong type, but mine tastes just as potent as any garlic I've ever tasted, and the giant cloves are so easy to use. (Click here for my tips on growing garlic.)

I dug up the garlic beds in two sessions, since it takes a lot of time time to peel all the cloves and to prepare such a big haul for using over the next 12 months. Since curing, drying, and hanging garlic doesn't work so well for me (the cloves shrivel up over a few months), I've come up with other ways to store it… so many that my list starts to sound like Bubba's description to Forrest Gump of how to prepare shrimp!, here's what I now do to store garlic for future use:
Pureed garlic, frozen in ice cube trays, then bagged

Pureed Garlic Cubes - I run peeled whole cloves of garlic through the food processor with organic extra virgin olive oil. Since the garlic is fresh, it holds a lot of moisture, so it purees into a thick paste. I spooned this mixture into ice cube trays, froze them, then popped out and bagged the cubes, to save freezer space and free up my plastic trays for other stuff. When I add garlic to recipes, most often there is some oil in whatever I am making, so this mixture is very helpful to have on hand. I always keep a small jar of minced garlic in the refrigerator, and when I've used it up (in my Caesar dressing, hummus, salsa, soup, stirfry or other favorite recipe), I just replenish with a garlic ice cube from the freezer. You'll notice in the photo that I labelled the cubes; I've learned to label everything, since there are just too many things in my brain to remember, and it helps avoid errors. I don't want to mistake a garlic cube for a pineapple cube!

Garlic Powder - I use the largest of my harvested cloves for this purpose, putting them through the food processor with the slicing blade. I spread the slices in a single layer on the trays of my electric dehydrator and dry these "chips" to a brittle stage. These are then stored in a cool, dark place in jars, and ground into garlic powder easily in my designated herb/spice [coffee] grinder. I save the moisture absorbing cylinders from vitamin and supplements I purchase, and I always place one in with a jar of dried foods, to be sure moisture doesn't form. Also, I don't grind it  into powder until I need to, since some of its potency might be lost unless I vacuum sealed the powder.

Whole cloves in oil
Dehydrated garlic "chps", which I grind to powd
Whole Cloves - preserved in organic extra virgin olive oil, refrigerated in jars. If you don't plan to use these cloves for a while, you might add Hollywood brand safflower oil, which is 20% vitamin E, a natural preservative.

Potent cough syrup
Cough Syrup - In a workshop for natural home remedies I took years ago, the instructor made a cough syrup by filling a jar with chopped garlic, chopped onions, and honey. I added some dried elderberries to my version of this cough syrup also, since this is a natural flu virus remedy. This concoction gets stored in the refrigerator, and after about 6 weeks the mixture is strained, discarding the vegetables and reserving the potent syrup as a cough remedy, again storing it in the refrigerator. Why this combination? A 2007 study (reported in Science Daily) proved that honey outperformed dextromethorphan (cough suppressant) in suppressing nighttime coughs. Onions are anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and antiviral. Elderberry tincture tested in the laboratory and in double-blind human studies cut the severity and length of Influenza A and B measurably and significantly. Garlic is a naturally powerful antibiotic, effective against toxic bacteria, viruses, and fungus. Garlic can relieve conditions of asthma, hoarseness, coughs, chronic bronchitis, and other disorders of the lungs, because of its powers of promoting expectoration. As for the medicinal benefits of garlic, see "More than a food ingredient" below. So this is a very potent syrup, strong tasting but effective.

Insect Repellent - I took any cloves which were not perfect for storing, as well as the chopped up main stems of the garlic heads, and spread them on the soil throughout my vegetable garden. Garlic is an organic natural detractor of insects, and I think it helps in my garden. All the other parts of the garlic plants went into the compost pile.

When I dug up all this garlic, attached to the root strings and/or below many of the heads were individual round cloves, especially on the elephant garlic. I call these the "garlic babies". They readily air-dryed, and I've stored them to replant my garlic bed in the fall. I am quite certain that I didn't unearth all these little cloves, so the garlic will likely replant itself in the old bed too. I'll have a great harvest again next year, after using up all the preparations described above!

Not only does garlic add loads of flavor to my cooking, it has widely recognized health benefits. As I've read online: "Garlic promotes the well-being of the heart and immune systems with antioxidant properties and helps maintain healthy blood circulation. One of garlic's most potent health benefits includes the ability to enhance the body's immune cell activity. The active component in garlic is the sulfur compound called allicin - a chemical produced when garlic is chopped, chewed, or bruised. Allicin is quite powerful as an antibiotic and a potent agent that helps the body to inhibit the ability of germs to grow and reproduce. There are now over 12 studies published around the world that confirm that garlic can reduce cholesterol. Garlic is known to stimulate T-lymphocyte and macrophage action, promote interleukin-1 levels, and support natural killer cells. Strong activity of these key cells promotes healthy immune system function, and strengthens the body's defenses. Garlic has germanium in it. Germanium is an anti-cancer agent, and garlic has more of it than any other herb. In lab tests, mice fed garlic showed no cancer development, whereas mice that weren't fed garlic showed at least some. In fact, garlic has been shown to retard tumor growth in human subjects in some parts of the world. 
Garlic "babies" to plant next fall
Another benefit of garlic is it helps regulate the body's blood pressure. So whether you have problems with low or high blood pressure, garlic can help equalize it. Garlic helps strengthen your body's defenses against allergies; helps loosen plaque from the artery walls; helps regulate your blood sugar levels; and is the best choice for killing and expelling parasites such as pin worms from the human body. In addition to all these health benefits, garlic is packed with vitamins and nutrients. Some of these include protein, potassium, Vitamins A, B, B2 and C, Calcium, Zinc and many others. In a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, allicin powder was found to reduce the incidence of the common cold by over 50%."

Try planting garlic in your garden next fall. It's easy to grow, pest-free, delicious, and good for you!