The first step in planting a salsa garden is deciding what you want in your salsa. The basic ingredients for salsas are tomatoes, onions, and peppers of some kind. There are many types of tomatoes on the market. Most will work just fine for salsa.
Call your local county extension office or garden center to find out which varieties grow best in your area. It is always a good idea to plant several varieties of tomatoes if you have enough room, just in case one variety does not fare well. Growing different colors of tomatoes can make your homemade salsa much more colorful. Tomatillos are a traditional variety to choose for a green salsa.
Onions come in many colors and sizes, and range in flavor from mild and sweet to strong and hot. For a salsa garden, smaller onions are easier to grow and harvest. Try such varieties as small green onions (also called scallions) or shallots.
Next, choose your peppers. Bell peppers are often used in salsa for their crunchy sweetness. They also add a lot of color; bell peppers are available in green, red, yellow, and orange varieties. Bell peppers are sweet and mild, with no heat at all. Hot peppers come in dozens of varieties, from mildly warm peppers to varieties that are so hot they come with a warning.
Examples of mild peppers include poblano or jalapeno peppers. Some of the hotter varieties include cayenne, datil, and habanero. One plant of each type is usually enough because peppers are easy to grow. As a safety precaution, always wear gloves when picking and preparing hot peppers and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. The juice inside the peppers is hot and oily, and very painful if it gets into your eyes. Once you have your basic ingredients covered, choose some herbs and spices like cilantro, garlic, chives, basil, or parsley.
The easiest way to start your salsa garden is to visit your local garden center early in the spring and buy plants that are already growing, and transplant them into your garden plot or containers. This saves a lot of time and effort and can actually improve your chances of getting a crop. Once your plants have produced, it is time to gather the fresh goodies and make some delicious, fresh salsa. Here is a very basic recipe to start with:
- 6 small or 2 large tomatoes, chopped, about 1 cup
- 3 scallions or 1 shallot or of a small onion, chopped, about cup
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 or more hot peppers, seeded and chopped finely, to taste
- 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped finely
Combine all ingredients in a non-metallic bowl and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or more to allow the flavors to blend. Serve with pride and some tortilla chips.
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