My first go-around with salsa: What a mess

G. and his co-worker Joel have gotten into competitive gardening. They compare plot size, the height of their tomatoes, ripeness of their peppers and strength of their tractors. It’s amazing how many things grown men can find to be competitive about.

Lately, Joel has been talking up his salsa, so naturally G. wants us to make salsa too. And that really means that he would like me to make salsa. I planned to do it, but I’ve been preoccupied with pasta sauces and soups.

Meanwhile, Joel let G. taste his salsa, and G. liked it. That allowed Joel to profit to the tune of $5 because he got his salsa recipe from an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. He had two copies of it and sold one to G. When I showed up at G.’s house Tuesday night, it was waiting for me.

I’ve made salsa before, but I usually make a salsa fresca, which is basically chopped tomatoes, jalapeno, onion and cilantro with some fresh lime juice squeezed on it.I haven’t made salsa and canned it. The recipe was pretty straightforward, with chopped tomatoes, jalapeno, onion and cilantro, along with garlic and some vinegar. I had to cook the salsa some to thicken it, and I assume that would also kill any bacteria before canning.

The first step was to peel, seed and chop the tomatoes and let them drain in a colander for 30 minutes. I peeled and seeded them but decided to put them in the food processor to chop them. I forgot about draining them. When I turned on the food processor, tomato juice squirted out of the crack between the bowl and lid, hitting me and the wall and then running down onto the counter, cabinets and floor. There was a moment when I just wanted to walk out of the kitchen and pretend that never happened.

But, I cleaned up the mess, processed the rest of the tomatoes and other ingredients and then put them in a pot to cook the salsa down. After 30 minutes, it hadn’t thickened a bit. In fact, it seemed really runny, like soup. That’s when I realized that even though the tomato juice sprayed out of the food processor, much more of it was left in the bowl with the chopped tomatoes, and that went into the salsa when I emptied the bowl into the pot. My salsa had way, way too much water in it from the tomatoes.

I pondered cooking it for hours to let the water boil off and then decided to just scrap it and start over. As I was pouring it down the sink, I realized that there was tomato residue at the bottom of the pan that looked a lot like salsa. I tipped the pot upright before it slid out and grabbed a chip. It tasted like salsa!

I put it in a small container with the label “screwed up salsa.” When G. came home, I had him try it. He liked it. When I told him what had happened and that it was a mistake, he said, “It doesn’t taste like a mistake. You should make it like this again.”

I can’t, of course, because I don’t know how much of the pepper, onion and vinegar went down the drain and how much remained in the tomato residue.

But that night, our friends W. and C. came over, and we all had more of the salsa and chips. I told them what happened too, and C., who is a philosopher and used to looking at problems from different perspectives, offered this:

“Think of it this way,” he said. “You found another way to drain the tomatoes.”

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