Celebrate salsa by making your own

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By Cheryle Jones Syracuse
Family and Consumer Science Staff
NC Cooperative Extension
Brunswick County Center

Any time of year is time to enjoy salsa. Yes, I love those rich tomato salsas loaded with garlic, onions, cilantro and peppers that are so popular with chips, but I know something even better.
Have you ever tried a fruit salsa? Yummy, especially as an accompaniment for meats and fish.
If you want to learn more about making your own salsa, join me at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 26, for a food demonstration called Celebrate Salsa. This class is part of the Healthy Counties, Healthy Families month celebration at the Brunswick County Government Center in Bolivia.
I’ll be teaching at the Extension Training Center in Building N. The class is open to the public and free of charge. Come join in the fun and sample a few different types of salsas, too.
Salsa can be made with fresh or cooked ingredients. I know folks that make what can be called “refrigerator salsa.” Just look in your refrigerator and see what fresh vegetables or fruits are available and combine them. If you’re not that bold, I’ll have some recipes to share at the class including mango and kiwi salsa, as well as a strawberry salsa that’s just perfect for this time of year. Both go well with fish and chicken, add zest to any meal, and are low-fat and low in sodium.
Another good thing about salsa is it’s full of vitamins, minerals and fiber and one-half cup counts as a fruit or vegetable serving
This Quick Bean Salsa recipe is one of my favorites. Because it’s made with purchased salsa, you select the style of salsa and the degree of hotness (or use any leftover salsa you happen to have in the refrigerator). What’s also nice about this recipe is that it can easily be made year round because you don’t need to have fresh fruits or vegetables on hand. The main ingredient is a can of refried beans, but it does go great using vegetables as the dippers. It has been kid tested.
I’ve made this for groups of 4-H members and they gobble it up. (Hint: I didn’t tell them it was a healthy recipe.)

Quick Bean Salsa
16 oz. can non-fat refried beans
1/2 cup salsa
6 oz. low-fat shredded cheese
1/2 tsp. spices, such as garlic, onion powder, cumin or chili powder (optional)
Assorted vegetables for dipping (carrots, celery, green peppers)
Baked tortilla chips (optional)
Combine the refried beans, salsa and cheese and mix well. Add more or less salsa to make it the consistency that you like. Add spices and cheese and mix well. Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces for dipping. Keep cold until ready to eat. Makes 6 1/2 cup servings (1/2 cup dip provides 158 calories with 6 grams of fat and 4 grams of fiber).
If you really love salsa, why not grow a salsa garden this year? According to Susan Brown, our Brunswick County horticulture agent, all of these plants will grow in our area. They could be a container garden on your deck if you don’t have room for a vegetable garden.
Parsley: A biennial herb that has flat leaf or curly leaf varieties.
Basil: There are several kinds of basil varieties, but sweet basil is recommended for a salsa garden. Basil is an annual herb and you’ll probably want 2-3 plants. Be careful here, basil is tender to cold, so plant it after the fear of frost.
Cilantro: A very strong tasting herb. It is an annual and easy to start from seed. It tends to grow better in the shade.
Onions: Can be planted from seeds or sets. Select red, white or yellow for your garden. This is one vegetable that’s easily purchased year round.
Peppers: Plant 2-3 pepper plants in your garden. Plant any green, sweet, bell type of pepper.
If you like hot, spicy salsa, plan to also grow a hot pepper variety.
Tomatoes: Try one paste tomato variety, such as Roma, a medium sized, oblongtomato with a thick, meaty flesh. Also, plant a large type tomato, such as Celebrity or Delicious.
If you love to experiment with recipes, you can turn your “salsa garden” into winning combinations.
If you have a bumper crop, remember that not all recipes for salsa are safe to can. The key to safely canning salsa is to use a research-tested recipe and follow the directions carefully. The type and amount of ingredients used in salsa, as well as the processing methods, are important when canning salsa. Improperly canned salsas, or other tomato-pepper combinations, have been implicated in more than one outbreak of botulism.
For a free fact sheet called “Celebrate with Safe Salsa,” contact N.C. Cooperative Extension at the Brunswick County Center at 253-2610. This fact sheet contains instructions for making and canning salsa along with several recipes that have been tested to insure proper preservation methods and results. We’ll have copies of this bulletin available at the Celebrate Salsa class on April 26. Hope to see you there!
Sources: University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Cornell Cooperative Extension.