fermented salsa party

IMG_4080IMG_4077Salsa is one of the preservationist’s most difficult challenges.  In terms of flavor, at least.  Canned salsa always tastes cooked and too lemony to me.  And there’s this odd insistence in adding cumin and garlic, two flavors that I just don’t like in salsa.  Or oregano, of all things.  Perhaps I’m being too fussy.  But I really want something like pico de gallo but all year round and without compromises.  Is that too much to ask?  Well, I suppose so.

I couldn’t find a trustworthy and delicious salsa recipe online, so I had to make one.  And to you, dear reader, I present it as my latest gift.  It’s superior to canned salsa in all ways but one: you need space in your refrigerator to hold two half-gallon jars.  I realize that’s sometimes difficult.  But if you can’t swing that, do try a half recipe.  This one really should be part of your repertoire.

If you want to add garlic, you can, but just a few cloves.

The flavor of the salsa changes over the course of months in your refrigerator, becoming more and more sour.  It will still taste lively and fresh, regardless.  I find the extra sour flavor really refreshing on winter tacos and quesadillas, or stirred into beans.

Lacto-fermented Salsa

Yield: 1 gallon + another small jar for eating now.

  • 2 pounds white onions
  • 1 cup mixed fresh red frying peppers, green bell or long peppers, and/or hot peppers
  • 1 cup packed cilantro leaves
  • 6 pounds Roma or other paste tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh lime juice
  • For each cup of finished salsa: 1 tablespoon whey drained from live-culture yogurt or another fermented juice (I used tomato kvass and green bean ferment juice, but I doubt you’ll have that!) and 1 teaspoon kosher salt (approximately 2 cups of whey and about 3/4 cups of salt).

Wash two half-gallon jars or four quart jars.  Pour boiling water in jars to top and let sit in sink while you are prepping vegetables.

Clean, trim, and quarter tomatoes.

Coarsely chop onion, peppers, garlic, and cilantro to ease their way into the food processor.  Working in small batches, pulse all vegetables except the tomatoes three to five times, and set aside in bowl large enough to mix 1 gallon salsa.  If there are any large pieces remaining, hand chop so everything is roughly even.

Pulse the tomatoes in batches in a similar fashion.  Do not blend so much they become paste-like.  There should be pieces of tomato left.  Hand chop any large pieces remaining.

Mix the vegetables together in the bowl with the lime juice.  Set aside whey or other fermented juice and salt.

Ladle the salsa into jars using a liquid measuring cup and a wide-mouth funnel.  For every cup of salsa poured into the jar, add one tablespoon whey/other fermented juice and one teaspoon sea salt.  Important:  leave about 3 inches of head space to account for bubbling.  Do not (trust me) overfill the jars.  Any salsa left over can be enjoyed fresh.  Last time I had about a pint.

Mix well, screw on lids, and place each jar on a plate or tray for any leaks.  Leave at room temperature for 1-4 days until bubbly and fizzy and sour.

There will be separation issues (see above picture).  Stir every day to push down vegetables and more evenly ferment. I find it impossible to keep the salsa pieces submerged under liquid and the salsa has a tendency to pack itself up near the top, so I am more vigilant about stirring and examining for mold.  It’s a quick, already acidic ferment, so I have been 100% successful so far in fermenting, but I do want to issue a caution that this part should be monitored.  I also wipe down the rim of the jar to discourage mold growth each time I stir.

When is it done?  Taste it.  It should be sour and lively.  I find it is best around 3 days, and the longer you let it ferment and get sour and fizzy, the longer it will keep in the refrigerator.  Mine lasts for many months.

Once it tastes good to you, refrigerate.

4 thoughts on “fermented salsa party

  1. mosaica 13 September 2013 / 6:48 am

    Excellent & interesting –thank you!

    I wonder: when I make pico de gallo type salsa, I salt my tomatoes, put them in a strainer, and then cook down the resulting juice from, say, a cup or so to a tablespoon or so, and once cooled I add it back in. I like the super acid-y tomato-y boost this gives my salsa. Any thoughts on how this might impact a fermented salsa such as yours?

    Have you found that you stir up the salsa before using each time? Or do you tend to scoop a bit of salsa out to use and don’t stir to combine?

    I will be making this, and look forward to it very much.


  2. Eugenia 14 September 2013 / 8:58 am

    Well, cooking kills bacteria, which is not really optimum for a fermented recipe. I’m sensitive to the thickness problem too, so I understand. If I use paste tomatoes, they actually stay rather thick, much thicker than cooked canned salsa, so maybe that will be enough for you, too. I do stir it each time I take a scoop.


  3. Peter 18 September 2013 / 6:52 pm

    Have you tried straining the result to get a thicker salsa and then use the liquid to ferment into vinegar? It can also be made into a great hot sauce with a little tinkering. This solves the separation and makes two products for the price of one.


  4. Eugenia 20 September 2013 / 8:28 am

    Thanks for the suggestion, Peter. I really don’t have a problem with the separation, but the liquid is indeed tasty. The only thing that makes me hesitate to recommend your idea is that I suspect the liquid helps keep the ferment fresh over the months of storage. I no longer make canned salsa, so I count on this stuff to keep me through the winter, and the liquid becomes more deliciously sour as time goes on and the good bacteria multiply. Would this still happen without liquid? Not sure. But I do know that oxidation would increase, and I suspect spoilage too. Great blog, by the way!


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