Stacking Functions Garden

Recipe: fermented salsa


You ask, I deliver.  Here you go, Matt!  From Nourishing Traditions:

Makes 1 qt
-4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
-2 small onions, chopped
-3/4 c. chopped chile, jalapeno, or milder pepper (seeded)
-6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped or pressed
-1 bunch cilantro
-1 tsp. dried oregano (or a good T or two of fresh)
-juice of 1-2 lemons
-1 T. sea salt
-4 T. whey or 1 extra tsp salt
-1/4 c. spring or purified water

For small scale recipes like this, it’s not really that big of a deal to just peel the tomatoes with a paring knife.  If you do a search on how to peel tomatoes you’ll see a lot of advice about boiling water, and dipping the tomatoes first in the boiling water, then in the cold water.  It’s true; the skins practically peel themselves off when you do this.  I’d only bother with making that many pans dirty if I was making 10 qts of salsa, not one.  But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

Anyway, mix all ingredients and place in a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar.  Press down lightly until the juice rises up; if there is not enough liquid to cover the vegetables then add a little water.  The top of the vegetables/liquid should be about an inch below the top of the jar.  Cover and keep at room temperature for about 2 days before transferring to the fridge.

A note about timing: that “2 days” is a very subjective figure.  It depends on a number of factors.  If you use the whey, this process goes very quickly.  If you don’t, it takes a little longer.  The temperature of your kitchen is also a factor.  This took 2 days in our kitchen, but we used whey.

How do you know when it’s done?  Taste it every single day.  Twice a day if it’s really warm in your kitchen.  Open it up, press the vegetables down, and give them a taste.  When it tastes really good, it’s done.  As you can see, there is pretty much no way to get this wrong.

If you use the no whey-extra salt method you’ll know it’s done when it starts to taste less salty.

I don’t know that I’d let this one go too long… probably better slightly fermented than sour-kraut-level fermented.

Variations: endless.  You could leave out any of the spices if you don’t like them.  You could use lime juice instead of lemon.   You could use 2 giant tomatoes instead of 4 medium.  I doubled the recipe and used up 4 giant brandywine tomatoes.

UPDATE, 10/12/2009: We had a recent batch of salsa that we let ferment until it was practically exploding on top of our fridge.  I think it took about 3 days, but that was in August when it was relatively warm here.  Anyway, it tastes good, but it is very bubbly.  Like champagne salsa.  Kinda weird (still edible).  If you want to avoid this, transfer to your fridge before the “exploding with bubbles” stage.  There’s a lot of variation in this process, and with practice you get better and better at it.  Give yourself the permission to experiment and fail, and you can’t go wrong.

22 thoughts on “Recipe: fermented salsa

  1. Please be careful with this. Fermentation is Great, but if the acid level is not adequate you can develop potentially lethal levels of Salmonellla contamination. I have home canned/cured for years and you really have to be sensitive to acid levels, processing times, etc. We don’t want to have people getting food poisioning from home canned items.

  2. I don’t get this. Nowhere in Wild Fermentation do they mention salmonella risk. Can you explain more? I thought things like salmonella and botulism were only a risk when you do heat-process canning.

    The process I’m using is just fermenting for X number of days (depending on what I’m making) and then moving it to the fridge. I don’t do anything with heat, so all the good enzymes/bacteria remain active in the food. Sandor Katz (Wild Fermentation author) said that these enzymes overpower bad ones like botulism (though he didn’t mention salmonella).

    This is the first time I’ve fermented with tomatoes. All my previous experiments have involved cucumbers and cabbage. I don’t think I would ferment tomatoes nearly as long as I fermented cabbage for sour kraut.

    I’d appreciate any insight you have, kentucky, so please share!

  3. Your salsa looks very good. We’ve been doing ferments for over three years now and never had a case of illness. Our fermented salsa tastes great, tangy, and is still good a year later (when refridgerated.)

    Acid levels are importent for canned goods as they are expected to last long term in a closet or cupboard. They are not refridgerated, do not have a culture keeping the levels of good and bad bacteria in balance, and often times contain ingredients that can not be safely fermented or the fermented recipe is no longer the taste people like. It is my opinion that some of the recent food guidelines are not in place simply because of the inadequecy of canning methods, but the inferior produce used in canning. For geneations food was processed without a pressure canner and milk was drank without homoginization or pasteurization. As the quality of a product declines, the quality of the final product will decline. When milk cows were fed leftovers from distilleries and had no access to grass (cows are ruminents) the quality of their milk rapidly declined and caused illness in those ingesting the inferior milk. Even today, if you were to take samples from grass-fed Jersey cows and compare them to you average milk-farm cow you would be shocked at the low number of pathogens in the Jersey milk and the astoundingly high number in the milk-farm cows. You could not pay me money to drink milk-farm cow milk raw, but I pay dearly for my Jersey cow milk raw and un-homogonized. My children and I have thrived on it for years.

    Tomatoes are a great example. Your higher acid, heriloom-type tomatoes are perfectly fine to water bath. Newere hybrids need to be pressure canned. They simply aren’t the same tomato grandma used!

    Goodness, look at me write a book in your comments, I am so sorry about that. I guess this is a part of life I am passionate about and it was a good distraction from 3rd grade math as well. Back to checking answers 🙂

  4. Jennifer,
    Thanks so much for posting! I’ve also been going crazy fermenting everything lately. I just tasted my sauerkraut, its a bit too salty, but coming along slowly none-the-less. I wouldn’t worry about salmonella and botulism, they only grow in sterile environments. The only thing you need to pay attention to in fermentation is mold on the surface of the water.

    • Hey Matt, no problem. Kraut is strange… our latest tasted too sweet for a long time. It never went through a salty stage. But it got good and sour eventually. I’d love to see a post on what all went down with your pig processing adventure…

  5. Over the Line! ;o)

    Great looking recipe! I think I’ll try it next time. Made my first-ever batch of salsa last night it turned out better than expected. Fermenting definitely sounds like the way to go, and makes sense considering my salsa was missing that “bite” to it. I’ll have to try using garlic next time as well.

    I was also concerned about botulism, so threw the remainder in the freezer. But from what I’ve read on this blog, I would only need to worry about botulism if I were to do some heat-process canning? If that is indeed the case, then it’s definitely a relief to not have to worry about if I’m not going through that process.

    The Doug abides…

    • LOL, Doug. Fermentation != canning. I highly recommend clicking on my “Fermentation” tag on the right side of the page… I’ve gone on and on about it. Or pick up the very excellent book “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz. Or search for his name on youTube; he’s got a few very helpful instructional videos.

  6. Thanks for the helpful hints! I wonder how long I can keep the salsa out of the fridge? I ask, because now is the time to make salsa, but can I eat it in the middle of the winter if I do not keep it in the fridge?

    • I think if you kept it in a cool place, yes. A root cellar-type of setup would be ideal. It might get rather bubbly though, so you’d want to make sure you let the air out once in a while.

      You can ferment things for a very long time, but they might end up tasting more sour than you’d like. When I took a fermentation class the instructor said he once tried three-year-old sour kraut but admitted it might be too strong for many people.

      I wouldn’t personally ferment salsa for more than a few days unless I had a root cellar.

  7. Hi Jennifer,
    I made this salsa today; can’t wait to try it.
    We’ve had really good luck with lacto-fermenting cauliflower. I invite you to check, out my blog, “Preserving the Harvest:”

  8. Thank you for sharing this recipe. I’ve made it once and really enjoy it, will be making another couple batches today. I’ve never used whey so the fact that you show extra salt can produce the same result is very useful.

    All the best

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  12. I have a Fido jar of this going, am on day 4 of it on the counter. It is still crazy salty, and I used less than called for. It’s fermenting, and I’m in AZ, so it’s not too cold here ;-). Suggestions or feedback? Thanks so much. I would be delicious if the salt wasn’t on steroids.

    • Keep trying it every day, and keep pushing the solid chunks under the surface of the liquid. It should get there soon!

      • Thanks for the fast reply! I am a newbie and it is a big help to have the voice of experience so that I Keep Calm and Ferment On.

  13. hi! I made this a week ago without whey and it was just insanely, inedibly salty. Do I really have to use twice as much salt to make it without whey? thanks

    • Hi Kate! It has been more than 5 years since I made this, but I’ve moved towards using less salt in *all* my ferments, so I think it would be fine here, too. I think you’d be fine without the extra salt. The way to get a batch that is too salty to taste less salty is to ferment it longer, but then you can end up with the bubbly salsa effect that nobody in my family found appetizing. Just make sure if you add any water to use SPRING or PURIFIED water. I know it says filtered water up there, but I’m going to change that. I have much better consistent results when using spring or purified; filters just do not filter enough of the chemicals out of my city’s water. Hope this all helps!

      • thank you so much for responding! I’m curious – do you know which chemicals and what they do that causes problems?

  14. Hi Kate. It’s the chlorine, mostly, I believe, that inhibits bacteria growth. And with fermentation, you *want* bacteria growth. The good bacteria, that is. 🙂

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