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Let me start by saying that I am not a cook by any means.

Now, I love salsa and I always have, but mostly I just get store brands. I've had homemade salsa before and it tends to be a lot more flavorful, and for that reason I'd like to try my hand at making some.

What exactly is "salsa" defined as? What are the core ingredients? Is it cheaper to make it myself or to buy it from the store? If I make it myself, about how long is the shelf life?

I realize that salsa tends to be pretty simple to make, but I see so many variations, and internet searches bring me many different recipes.

What will I need to get started?

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6 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Recipes
As far as salsa recipes go, they're all over the web. Check sites like allrecipes.com or epicurious.com - - or justrightmenus.com!

Shelf Life

  • Refrigerator. With regard to shelf life, according to stilltasty.com, you're only going to get 5-7 days out of fresh salsa in the refrigerator.

  • Freezer. The same source says you can keep it for 1-2 months in the freezer. Use containers meant for storing frozen foods (they make plastic lidded containers for this very purpose), and leave "headspace" in the container (room for expansion as the liquid freezes). If you opt for freezing, you can use any recipe you'd like. Food safety won't be an issue so much as quality would. For example, I would not recommend freezing a melon salsa, though it's great fresh.

  • Canning. You also could pressure can your salsa. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is the best resource to learn to can. If you opt for canning, be sure to follow a trusted canning recipe - you can't just can any old recipe. I would use one off the National Center's site.

Cost Comparison
It all depends on what you make and the price of your ingredients, of course. If I can get cheap salsa at cost X and expensive, tasty salsa and cost 2X, my goal in making my own is to achieve great taste at a cost less than 2X. My homemade blueberry jam costs me about $2 per jar, much more expensive than generic jam; however, good blueberry jam is about $5 at the store.

Incidentally, I'll be making salsa this summer once I can get lots of cheap tomatoes. Keep an eye on jessica.mcrackan.com late in the summer if you'd like some real examples and cost comparisons.

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5-7 days in the fridge is optimistic in my experience. Salsa (especially really fresh stuff, ESPECIALLY if it has avocado in it) is significantly less good after 48 hours. –  Paul McMillan Aug 8 '10 at 3:52
    
I agree that the time in the fridge depends on the kind of salsa, for sure. Thanks for mentioning that. –  JustRightMenus Aug 8 '10 at 15:51
    
I've seen lots of recipes for canned salsa that don't require a pressure canner. Is this because of the vinegar content? –  Peter Turner Sep 17 '10 at 14:56
    
@Peter Turner - tomatoes are on the border for what can be canned w/ a water bath and what should be pressure canned. So, it's certainly conceivable for a salsa recipe to be water-bath canned. If the recipe gives instructions for water-bath canning and is a trusted, tested one (from Ball or the Nat'l Ctr or somewhere like that), then I'm sure it's fine. –  JustRightMenus Sep 17 '10 at 15:12
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There are many different recipes because there are many different salsas.

Pick three or four recipes, and try them all. Then make up your own.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salsa_(sauce)

If you're talking about typical american salsa, the main concept seems to be tomato, hot pepper, onion as a base for the recipe. The sauce is not usually cooked, although ingredients may be cooked separately (like roasting the jalapenos or garlic).

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I'll keep this simple.

Tomatoes, onions, jalapenos--cilantro, garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper.

Dice, food process, or blend for desired texture, add jalapenos to taste, cilantro and garlic to preference, and salt as needed. Squeeze in some lime juice.

Quickly grill or roast any of the main ingredients for a smoky flavor. I've had good results with green peppers, even regular bell peppers.

It's cheaper yourself. It has no additives/artificial flavors or preservatives. It's not pasteurized, so it won't last as long. It tastes much better.

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What do you mean by green peppers? Jalapenos, cerranos, etc? As long as you don't mean bell pepper... –  Ryan Elkins Aug 8 '10 at 3:05
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I do sometimes put bell pepper in salsa, especially roasted. Do you disagree? –  Ocaasi Aug 8 '10 at 4:29
    
I think he's saying any kind of pepper that is green, even green bell peppers. –  Sam Hoice Aug 9 '10 at 0:48
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I've posted this before in another discussion, but my personal favorite is avocado, corn (roasted husk-on on the BBQ), cucumber, and cherry tomatoes, with a little bit of very finely diced garlic, and lime juice to taste. I usually add a jalapeno or two as well, which I also roast on the BBQ.

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I've lived in Austin for 15+ years, I lived a couple miles from the TX-Mexico border until I was nine years old. I have prepared many salsas at home and tasted many at restaurants and homes.

My general advice on salsa is:

  1. Pick a base (Tomato or Tomatillo (or both!))

  2. Add onion and/or garlic. Add dried or fresh chiles (e.g., guajillo, ancho, chipotle or fresh ones like jalapeno, serrano, poblano, hatch, etc.)

  3. Put those things in a blender or you can chop them up and begin to cook them on your stove top. If you are chopping the ingredients I suggest buying canned diced tomatoes. If you don't use canned diced tomatoes and try to cook your salsa after only hand chopping the ingredients it will take forever to cook, and the flavors won't really mingle. You want it to boil but only for a moment. Turn the heat down so it doesn't boil for too long!

  4. Add a little bit of salt (don't overdo it!)

  5. Add finely-chopped cilantro.

  6. Let it cool down and serve warm or put it in the fridge. (You'll notice a flavor difference in the same salsa based on the serving temperature)

I could talk about salsa forever, but use this process and change variables one at a time until you start to find what you like!

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