A few weeks ago reader Brook mentioned her lacto-fermented salsa which I zeroed right in on. I’ve done some lacto-fermenting this year, namely beet kvass, carrots and dill pickles. But when Brook mentioned she had made tomato salsa last summer that was still good after 6 months I knew I had to have her do a post about it. My goal this year is to can less and put up more. Lacto fermentation is a great way to do that. Without further ado, here is Brook’s post.
Enough About the Salsa, Already!
Adding something from your summer garden to your winter meal is a treat. Whether pulling blueberries from the freezer, or opening a jar of honey peaches, it brightens your plate and your day. I feel this way about the salsa I have sitting in the refrigerator. Last fall I decided it was time to try lacto-fermenting something and salsa was my first try – and a successful first try, at that! I always have something fermenting in my kitchen – from everyday sourdough to beet kvass. My husband lovingly calls it the hippie tower – the dinner plates covering bowls and then stacked on top of each other to save valuable counter space. But the salsa, it really knocked my socks off! It is March! How can I still be eating something that has been hanging out in my fridge since September?
Lacto-fermentation is centuries-old practice of preserving food. Whey from milk or yogurt, added to fruits or vegetables helps to produce lactic acid, a natural preservative. This lactic acid prevents harmful bacteria from growing, allowing the food to be eaten months later. And unlike canning that actually depletes fruits and veggies of intrinsic nutrients, lacto-fermentation adds significant nutrient value to foods. This process turns an already vibrant condiment like salsa into a super food – adding beneficial enzymes and thousands of friendly bacteria that aid in digestion and help to boost immunity.
The nice thing about this salsa is that you don’t need a specific recipe. You can use your favorite fresh salsa recipe and just add a step to ferment it. I didn’t really have a recipe going into this – I used what I had around – generally what Fall has to offer. I had a pile of tomatoes ripening on the back porch and the rest of the ingredients came from my CSA. You can follow this basic method:
To your food processor, add garlic cloves, onion, and a generous bunch of cilantro and process until the garlic and onion are minced. Slice the tomatoes in half and squeeze most of the watery juice into the sink or save it for another purpose, leaving the meaty part of the tomato and the skin. Then, add these to the food processor along with a seeded (or not) jalapeño, the juice of a lime, and sea salt and blend until the tomatoes are close to uniform in size but still a bit chunky. Transfer all of this mixture into a large bowl and add the whey. I used approximately 2 tablespoons of whey per 4 cups of salsa. Stir the whey into the salsa really well. Now, pour the salsa into very clean jars and cap tightly, leaving about 1 inch between the salsa and the top of the jar to allow for expansion of the juices. Let the jars sit on the counter for 2-3 days and then transfer to the fridge. That’s it! One extra step, and now you have salsa to last through the dark days of winter.
Knowing what I now know about lacto-fermentation hasn’t stopped me from expecting a foul smell or to see mold growing each time skeptically I open the jar. And I think my husband is half smiling, half rolling his eyes every time I say “Look at this, salsa. I made this way back in September! No, really, come look at it. It’s still perfect!” He’s heard it over and over again. This is a simple, yet tried and true way of preserving what nature has given us and it continues to amaze me. It’s led to experiments with fermenting many other things like sauerkraut, kimchi, and beet kvass. I’m down to the last half jar and it feels bittersweet. The salsa is gone but, I’m excitedly anticipating the arrival of my tomato plants from Territorial so that I can start the process all over again.