Salsa Time

It’s tomato season, and all that advance planning, careful thinning, and staking should be paying off now, with trusses of red juicy tomatoes just ready to pick. Since the Old Spanish Days Fiesta mood may still be lingering, salsa is a good way to use some of the bounty. A favorite is salsa fresca, and the prime ingredient is chopped tomato. For a different hearty salsa with more depth, grill tomatoes to get a softer texture and some char on the skin.

Whatever recipe you follow, be sure to pick the reddest fruits (yes, technically tomatoes are the fruit of the vine) that give just a little as you gently squeeze them. Naturally, if you have planted some of the new or heirloom varieties in shades of yellow, pink, or striped red and green, you will judge their ripeness by the depth of their color, whatever it is. All should come off the plant easily, their stems separating at the first joint. Be sure to enjoy one or more warm from the vine while you harvest.

The second most important ingredient in salsas of every hue is the chile pepper. Either mild or hot, picked green or ripe and red, the number of pepper varieties rivals that of tomatoes. Even if you prefer to let your peppers mature, it’s a good idea to pick some of the first ones anyway. This clues the plant to continue to bloom and ultimately produce a larger crop. If you leave them all on, the flowering cycle is shortened as all the energies of the plant go into ripening the seeds (that’s its purpose in life, after all).

If you planted them last fall or early winter, it’s also harvest time for onions and garlic (no salsa would be complete without one or both of them). The bulbs will be fully formed and the tops beginning to die back. To hasten the hardening off of the bulbs, some growers like to knock down the tops and let them dry for a week or so before digging. The bulbs still need to cure after digging before you can store them. Dig carefully (a digging fork is helpful here) and turn the onions or garlic out onto the soil between rows. Leave them for at least a week while their outer leaves dry and form a protective layer that will keep the moisture inside at a constant level in the coming months. If rain threatens or drippy foggy days continue, you may need to move them to a covered location. Spread them out again in a single layer to dry completely.

Last, but not least, harvest a few fresh leaves of cilantro and oregano to chop into the mix. Has your cilantro already begun to bolt? It’s not too late to sow another crop. It will probably mature even faster now that the days are warm and long, but you can also let them go to seed and use the resulting spice, coriander, in your other Mexican and Asian dishes.


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