Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hot Stuff!

Last year I canned salsa for the first time (having only made fresh batches in previous years, intended to be eaten immediately), and I discovered two things:

1. I didn't make nearly enough salsa to eat it as often as I might have liked throughout the winter (talk about having to hold back!), and
2. I didn't really make it hot enough.

While I'm not a wimp in terms of culinary heat, I do approach it with caution. And while I can handle the occasional medium-hot curry and often slip a second dried chile into my home-cooked Indian meals, when it comes to fresh chiles, I tend to go slow.

After opening the last jar of last year's salsa just this week, I realized that the flavor was fairly tepid, and if I wanted to make salsa this weekend, I'd better pick up a more substantial load of peppers at the farmers' market. I came home with about 8 medium-hot banana peppers and 3 poblano chiles, as well as two kinds of tomatoes, two red onions, and more garlic.

Having rested after the other kitchen work for the day (whew!), I prepared the salsa vegetables, using about half of what I had brought home and thinking that would be enough salsa for now. While I seeded the peppers (of course!), I did not peel the tomatoes as the recipe indicated simply because I like a little extra texture in my salsa.

[As a side note, there's a good article over at Culinate this week about why it's good to peel and even seed your tomatoes when you're canning. I'm of two minds on this. For plain canned tomatoes, I definitely do peel them, despite the extra work, and for sauce, I puree the tomatoes in a mill, so peels and seeds are removed with no problem. But for making salsa and for drying, I think the peel adds a little more substance to the tomatoes so that I'm not left with almost ephemeral pulp. That's my opinion, though, and you're welcome to post yours in the comments!]

All the vegetables went into my large cooking pot (where I realized that I could have made the entire batch at once had I been up for all that chopping), and I added some extraordinarily fresh and kicky local apple cider vinegar -- so fresh it practically slapped my face on the way home from the market! -- cilantro, salt, and pepper before stirring it all up and letting it simmer for a while.

Half an hour later, with a dash of cumin and fresh oregano thrown in for good measure, the salsa was ready to can. I only got 2 1/2 pints from this batch, but that was good enough for today, so I filled the jars and ran them through the hot water bath while I prepared a very simple dinner. And fifteen minutes later, I had salsa ready to go into the pantry for the winter.

If I'm up for it, I might try to make the rest of the batch tomorrow or early in the week, since two pints and a very small jar won't last me long at all. And next week, I might do it all over again. (I'm also considering roasting the vegetables and making a freezer salsa; anyone got experience with that or suggestions?)

Because when winter comes, I am going to need some hot stuff to keep me warm!


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