I love themed gardens. I think I’ve mentioned that before. It’s fun to decide what the theme will be for your garden and then to find all the things you will put in your bed. This includes the plants but also this is where you can get really creative with accessories for the garden in the way of structures or decorations. In this way a themed garden is only limited by your budget and your imaginations, and I suppose the area you have to plant.
Today I want to talk about salsa gardens. I do a salsa garden every year. Even for the year that we lived in a high rise apartment in Houston, I had a salsa garden on the 14 x 12 patio. Although it was just container tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos, it got the job done.
Now that I have my country place with room to sprawl I have found my problem to be…stop…adding…plants! = ) This is a great problem to have, and I am certainly not complaining. I’m not bragging, I’m blessed.
So let me give you some ideas about what I think makes a great salsa garden. I break this in to five sections: tomatoes, greens, peppers, onions, other. I try to grow at least three of these. The tomatoes are just always best home grown. Greens are inexpensive and really easy, so why not grow them? Peppers are pretty easy too and can easily be in a container. I have only started doing onions since I have had a little more room to do so. The “other” section is almost always gotten from a farmers market as these are usually more exotic finds.
Let’s talk tomatoes. With the sheer volume of varieties, heirlooms and hybrids, I could write for days about just the tomatoes. To avoid that, let me just tell you my favorite and then give a few ideas you may not have thought about.
There are four kinds of tomato that I grow even if I have to just use containers. These also happen to be great in salsa. Brandywine pinks, Anna Russian (black), Amish Paste and Chocolate Cherry, these make the list every year and are all excellent in salsa. I will say the Brandywine makes a really big plant, if you do this in a container, plan on a good support system and regular feedings. If you love Brandywine but not the size, you might try Brandymaster. They are a hybrid, not heirloom, and they have a smaller, tamer plant.
Anna Russian is a medium size Oxheart or Globe tomato. Pink, meaty, sweet and gorgeous do not go too far describing these lovely fruit. They have a well mannered, almost smallish vine but the yields for Anna are huge. Seriously, it’s a good thing you’re going to love this tomato so much because you’re going to have bushels of them. Such a problem to have.
As I am a big sauce maker, it’s great to have the Anna Russians for large harvests, but I also always have a dedicated sauce/paste tomato as well. I sometimes grow Roma, but more often than not, I go with Amish Paste. You can’t go wrong with Amish just about anything and they certainly know their tomatoes. Amish Paste has it all as far as healthy plants, heavy yields, uniform fruit, and resistance to many nuisance issues.
I always have at least one type of “cherry” or very small tomato. I try to do a grape sized tomato in every color. If you’re like me, so many of these snack sized morsels never make it in to the house when it comes time to harvest. If I have four or five plants there is at least a chance we’ll be having some cherry tomatoes in our salads or for salsa. If I could only have one cherry variety, I would choose Chocolate Cherry. Added in to a salad, sauce or salsa they make a sweet statement. Their flavor is rich and complex with undertones of fruity, sweet, chocolately yum.
Not all salsa has a “green” in it, however, most of mine does. The number one green in my salsa is Cilantro. I grow Cilantro year round and still have to purchase Cilantro besides what I can grow. We use a lot of Cilantro. As far as varieties, I use them all. I usually get a Slo-bolt as I live in Zone 8a with 91-120 days exceeding 86° on average each year.
Other “greens” I use in salsas include: peppercress, Upland cress, curled parsley, Basil (different flavors), rosemary, borage, chervil and baby spinach.
I live about two minutes from a little town called Noonday. The only thing Noonday is known for, that I am aware, is Noonday Onions. These are kind of smallish, delicious sweet onions that really store well. We are right on the border of the short day/intermediate day sunlight requirements. A wise grower hailing from Noonday made a cross of two yellow onions, one intermediate one short day. This master gardener came up with an onion that can develop a sweet attitude with exactly as much sun as we get in this area.
My recommendation is to find what grows best in your area and ask around if you want a particular flavor. For example, my oldest son, Ryan, likes a spicy onion and he chooses white onions more often than not. I always try to get a mild onion, preferring yellow onions for flavor and red onions for color. I must say I am also biased to the yellow and red because I use the skin from these to dye yarn. Nothing goes to waste = ) Before I leave onions, I also use shallots and bunching onions in salsa as well.
Just because they are called peppers, does not mean they have to be hot. You can make a nice salsa with bell peppers, banana peppers or a nice red cheese pepper. My family enjoys hot peppers. Actually, my family enjoys extremely hot peppers. I grow cayenne, serranos, and on occasion even a ghost pepper or two. All of these make delicious sauces, are delightful pickled, and add a kick to stir fry. They are also extremely hot,so much so that they can easily overpower and can turn from peppy to torture in a blink.
A nice balanced heat comes in the form of Tam Jalapeno from Baker Creek or El Jefe from Johnny’s Seeds.
This is where I really go crazy. I grow black beans, baby corn, tomatillos, ground cherries, black and white radish, marigold petals, lavender, nasturtium, mango, papaya, pineapple, apple, grapes, jelly melon, everything but the kitchen sink. Before you flip out, I don’t put all of these in every salsa. These are just examples of things I might add to a salsa to push it over the edge of delicious. Different people like different things in our house so it’s hard to please everyone but I will say, we have never met a salsa that someone in our house didn’t love.
I love to the complexity of spicy with sweet so I tend toward the fruit mixed in varieties. My oldest two kids, Ryan and Meghan like the hotter the better and they want a very acidic base. They also tend to not enjoy much sweetness added. You know what your family likes and you can go with that. You can always get more adventurous when you have company or are taking it out somewhere.
Here are a couple of good square-ish plans you can peruse.
The last view shows, it looks like peas, you could do your black beans here which are delicious in salsa but also in many dishes. I’m forever growing beans.
Now the fun part, the recipes. I’m giving you four recipes, three mild, one that is hot-cha-cha. I hope you see something you love.
Plain Pico De Gallo
Pico De Gallo is Spanish for beak of the rooster. There isn’t any reason I decided to tell you that, I just thought it was interesting.
- 5 medium tomato, diced
- 3 onion, finely chopped
- 1-2 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 Large bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 3 green onion, finely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped fine
- 1 teaspoon course ground sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon course ground pepper
- Juice from 4 limes
In a medium bowl, combine tomato, onion, jalapeno pepper (to taste,) cilantro and green onion, juice from limes. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Stir until evenly distributed. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
*I make three times this amount for my family of six, more if we have company, which is often. We sometimes have a little left over, but it is one of those recipes that gets better the longer it sits. As a matter of fact, I will often make it the night before to let the salad just mellow and get to know each other.
Green Tomato Salsa*
4 c. chopped green tomatoes
2 c. chopped and seeded sweet peppers (banana, red bell)
1 c. chopped and seeded jalapenos, approximately 1/2 pound = 1 cup chopped
1 c. chopped onion
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. cider vinegar
3 cloves crushed garlic
Chop all ingredients and place in saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour salsa in hot jars (pints). Seal and water bath for 30 minutes.
Makes about 5 pints
*Of course, this can be made with any color tomato, but it makes a pretty green salsa. At Christmas I use this and the same made with red tomatoes to pour over cream cheese. It’s festive, beautiful and so so yummy.
- 1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted, and diced (about 1 1/2 cup)
- 1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
- 1 Jalapeño chile, minced (include ribs and seeds for a hotter taste if desired)
- 1 small cucumber, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
- 3 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Also good with diced red bell pepper and jicama
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the salsa ends up being a little too hot or acidic for your taste, you can temper it by adding some diced avocado.
Hot Cha Cha
- 5 roma (plum) tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 10 green onions
- 2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded or 1 jalapeno 1 serrano
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 cloves pressed garlic or one tsp. garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon sat
In a blender or food processor, pulse the tomatoes, green onions, jalapeno peppers, and cilantro to desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl, and mix in the lime juice, hot pepper sauce, black pepper, garlic powder, and salt.
Now to make them paisley…
I make pico de gallo with white and black tomatoes, white and black jalapenos and cherry tomatoes. My middle son, Jonathan dubbed it “Checkerboard Salad” It is a huge hit at my family gatherings and at church potlucks.
Make the Green Tomato Salsa with different color tomatoes. It’s beautiful in orange, yellow and positively pretty in pink. Make it with white tomatoes and spoon it on grilled chicken this summer, take it to the neighborhood cookout, you’ll be crowned “Queen of the Cul-De-Sac”
I hope I’ve enticed you to start your own salsa garden this year. Even if you’re already set on what you’re growing, you can always pick up some great ingredients locally at your farmer’s market.
Have a paisley salsa day!~KeriAnne