Oct 042012
Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes


Salsa is my go-to project whenever tomatoes are so abundant I’m not sure what to do with them all. (Which isn’t to say you must be navigating an overabundance of tomatoes in order to make it– it’s delicious even when not strictly necessary.) I’ve made Roasted Heirloom Tomato Salsa twice recently, due to a profusion of tomatoes on offer from our landlords/neighbors’ beautiful and extensive vegetable garden.

This morning my inbox held a last-minute request from friends in Portland looking for a good salsa recipe. (Always a happy occurrence.) The friend that wrote said her husband needs to whip up something tonight for a work potluck tomorrow, and is thinking, “Salsa.”  She said he’ll be tired from his day as a teacher by the time he starts making it, (and is set to decline help, so as to maintain the purity of his role as potluck participant), so I hope he’ll find this formula as quick and easy as I do, because this is what I sent them. This salsa is always a hit when I serve it, and the roasting mellows the chiles and brings out the sweetness in the tomatoes, so it’s generally pretty mild. Add a single habanero to the pan of vegetables, if you prefer it spicy.

When formulating a salsa recipe, just remember the following:

1) Salsas are a condiment, so you want their flavor to be intense (although spice level can be as variable as you wish.)

2) You can get creative with components and flavors– it’s fine to think outside the tomato box. Not that I’ve done that here. It’s a classic for a reason.

3) The primary ingredient (used in the greatest proportion) should complement the spices and aromatics you choose. Tomatoes work very well with aromatics like peppers and onions, so that’s an exceedingly popular combo. What else works well? Most fruits, especially those with a touch of acid.  And if your ingredients aren’t that acidic, a generous squeeze of citrus, such as lemon or lime, is a common component of traditional salsas, particularly fresh ones.  Cooked salsas commonly have a touch of vinegar. Vinegar choice opens up another world of flavor options.

4) Try introducing some different herbs– cilantro and mint marry particularly well. Or how about basil, or oregano, or thyme?

5) Don’t forget to salt generously– salt brings out juices and flavor, and your salsa will be flat without sufficient salt.

6) Salsa too tart? Nothing wrong with stirring in a bit of sugar, as long as you balance it with salt.

7) Using ground spices? Bloom them a little in hot oil before stirring them in. (If you’re cooking your salsa, they can heat/bloom during the cooking process, so you can probably skip this step.)

7) If you’re doing a salsa where some or all of the ingredients are cooked and later blended, an oil will help the ingredients to emulsify and retain a thick and pleasant mouthfeel. I like olive oil best for this.


Roasted Heirloom Tomato Salsa


  • 8 medium or 5 large red heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 4 jalapenos
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 head cilantro
  • olive oil
  • ground cumin
  • salt

Cooking Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Drizzle the bottom of a baking dish very generously with olive oil.
  3. De-stem and quarter your tomatoes, throw them in the dish and toss them a little.
  4. Peel your onion, quarter it, throw the pieces in and toss.
  5. De-stem your chiles, halve them lengthwise, throw in and toss.
  6. Salt the vegetables generously.
  7. Roast them about half an hour, then toss your peeled garlic cloves in, making sure to nestle them on the bottom in the oil.
  8. Keep roasting until vegetables are browned and smell great. (Probably an hour or so, total.)
  9. Throw the vegetables in a blender with a generous amount of ground cumin and the cilantro, de-stemmed. Blend.
  10. Salt to taste-- you will very likely need plenty more salt at this juncture. It makes salsa come alive.
  11. You'll probably need more cumin, too. That's it!


  2 Responses to “Formulating a Salsa Recipe; Roasted Heirloom Tomato Salsa”

  1. I’ve never tried making salsa. Now I’m inspired. Thanks, Michelle!

  2. Well, did you make one? Inquiring minds want to know.

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