Hopefully you were swayed by my argument for grilling vegetables last month. In this week’s recipes, the grilled flavor shines. The salsa has evolved over the years from fresh to roasted and finally to grilled. We get more compliments for it than for anything else we process, and no matter how much we put up each year, our stash barely lasts to the next canning season.
The grilling creates intense flavor, but it also lets you stretch out the process to suit both your harvest and your schedule. We harvest and grill the ingredients as they come ripe, separating the tomato juice and solids. Then we stash everything in the freezer until we have enough for at least one full canner batch of salsa. It’s also a fabulous recipe for a canning party, particularly when paired with a tasty beverage to celebrate your hard work.
Some techniques in these recipes differ from instructions given by the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which tests its canning recipes in laboratories. To compensate for these differences, I heavily researched and meticulously calculated the acidity for safe canning; to double-check my calculations, I test the recipes with a ThermoWorks high-accuracy pH meter. More details are in the Tips & Tricks for each recipe.
Grilled Tomato Chipotle Salsa
15 pounds tomatoes (6-1/2 pounds, or about 10 cups, when grilled and drained)
3/4 pound onion (9 ounces, or about 1 cup, when grilled and chopped)
2 pounds bell peppers (15 ounces, or about 2 cups, when grilled and chopped)
1 head garlic (about 6 tablespoons when grilled and minced)
4 ounces chipotle chilies in adobo (about 6 tablespoons when minced)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 cup bottled lime juice (5% acidity)
3/4 cup cider vinegar (5% acidity)
Grill the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and garlic. Drain the tomatoes, setting the juice and a little bit of the pulp aside (see below); for this salsa, the grilled tomatoes need to weigh 6-1/2 pounds after draining. If you won’t be processing right away, stash the tomato solids and juice separately in your freezer. Peel the garlic and freeze it, the onions, and the peppers on a tray for a couple of hours; chop the vegetables; and then seal them in a zip-close freezer bag and store them with the tomatoes.
When you are ready to process, let any frozen ingredients defrost. Add all ingredients to a large stockpot, including half of the adobo sauce from the chilies. Bring to a boil, and then simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors, stirring often to avoid burning. If the salsa seems too chunky, run an immersion blender through it briefly to achieve the desired consistency. Adjust the seasonings, adding more adobo as needed to reach the desired spiciness.
Tips & Tricks
- This recipe makes a full-flavored salsa. If you’re a fan of corn, black beans, or other flavors, only mix them in after you’ve opened the jar. Adding other vegetables before canning, or reducing the amount of lime juice and vinegar, will change the pH and make it unsafe for water-bath processing.
- The NCHFP advises against draining tomatoes when canning because it hasn’t tested its recipes for that variation and can’t say whether draining changes tomato acidity. The technique gives this salsa its thickness and the option for two products from one grilling session (see below). To compensate for this variation, I adjusted the acid in this recipe so that it is greater than the volume given in NCHFP and U.S. Department of Agriculture recipes. For good measure, I test my batches with a ThermoWorks high-accuracy pH meter. The finished salsa has repeatedly clocked in at pH 3.77–3.91 (±0.05).
- The salsa will become spicier as it sits after canning, so I suggest erring on the side of less heat when you taste it straight from the kettle.
- My largest stockpot holds enough salsa that I double this recipe and can it in two batches each time I make it. If you love it, you may want to go big too.
Twice as Tasty
The phrase “tomato juice” likely puts one of two images in your head: a can of V8 or a pint glass of Bloody Mary. Papa Hem would be proud if you flashed to the latter: Some accounts make him part of, or at least present for, the drink’s invention. His personal recipe, as shared in Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917–1961, emphasizes making “a pitcher of Bloody Marys (any smaller amount is worthless).”
In many ways, the recipe that follows was the inspiration for this blog. After years of roasting tomatoes and pouring the juice down the drain, I thought, “bloody hell”—and then immediately, “Bloody Mary!” Grilling puts this mix over the top. Even if you don’t have enough tomato juice to process a round of jars, you’ll mix the best bloody you’ve ever tasted. These proportions are per quart jar; simply multiply by the cups of juice you’re able to strain out of the tomatoes destined for salsa.
Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary Mix
1/3 cup grilled tomato pulp
2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice (5% acidity)
3 tablespoons bottled lime juice (5% acidity)
2-1/4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes hot sauce or to taste
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon celery seed and/or cutting celery, minced
1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper, finely ground
1 clove garlic
pinch of prepared horseradish, or 1 2-inch piece horseradish
Measure out the juice collected from draining grilled tomatoes (see above). For every 3-1/4 cups of juice, puree about 1/3 cup of grilled tomato pulp using an immersion blender, food processor, or blender and add the puree to the tomato juice. Heat the juice until just about to boil. Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients except the garlic and horseradish to the tomato juice, stirring until blended.
If serving fresh, refrigerating, or freezing, cool and then pour the mix into quart containers; mince the garlic and add a pinch to each container, along with a pinch of prepared horseradish, and then seal and shake before serving.
If canning, add a clove of garlic and piece of horseradish to each hot quart jar. Ladle the tomato mixture into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 40 minutes, plus your altitude adjustment. Makes about 1 quart jar for every 3-1/4 cups of tomato juice.
To serve, shake one quart jar vigorously to combine the flavors. Put ice cubes, 2 whole green olives, and 1 clove roasted or pickled garlic into each pint glass. Pour in 2 ounces of vodka and 1/2–1 ounce of green olive brine if desired, and then fill the rest of the glass with the bloody mix. Stir and taste; adjust proportions or add seasonings as desired. Garnish with Dilly Beans or refrigerator-pickled asparagus and a lime slice. Serves 3–4.
Tips & Tricks
- I experimented with the juice-to-solids ratio for some time before settling on the quantities here. Using just drained juice makes the mix a bit thin; adding more tomato solids turns it into salsa in a glass—still tasty in either case, but not ideal.
- Prepared horseradish is fine if you’re making a fresh mix, but I prefer a whole chunk for a canned batch; I’ve found that neither prepared nor powdered horseradish mixes well into a room-temperature or chilled jar. If you prefer less bite, leave out the horseradish while processing; it will get stronger the longer the jar sits. Garlic is much like horseradish—it strengthens in the jar.
- The green olive brine is optional; I add it when serving this drink to make these “dirty” Bloody Marys.
- This mix is so fully flavored that the alcohol is also optional; simply pour it into a pint glass and enjoy. You can also use the drained juice in soup stocks and other dishes; just don’t run it through your water-bath canner without the acidic ingredients. Instead, pour it into containers, bags, or cubes and freeze like stock.