Salsa Gardens: Plant a Fiesta in Your Yard

The great thing about growing your own garden is having your favorite ingredients right at your fingertips. You can explore different flavors, textures and colors to create meals that are both healthy and oh-so-delicious. Specialty gardens, like salsa gardens, are blooming in popularity with summer right around the corner.

“Salsa,” meaning “sauce” in Spanish, is one of the most popular condiments in the country. And why not? Its eye-catching greens, reds, yellows and whites are perfect for your summer fiestas. Ranging from sweet to spicy flavors, salsa is a great way to accompany your favorite summer dishes and snacks. Whether you are cooking burgers and kabobs on the grill, or just need a mid-day snack while hanging by the pool, this delicious veggie combo is a great accompaniment to your appetite.

Planting Your Produce
When deciding whether to plant your salsa garden in a container or in the ground, it’s all about how much space you have and how much produce you’d like to yield. In-container planting is great for those who are busy and who have limited space. If you are planting in a pot, be sure to fill the bottom with rocks prior to adding soil to help with drainage. In-ground planting is perfect for large spaces and for those who wish to devote time outside getting your hands dirty.

When planting your salsa garden, make sure you do so in a spot that will receive at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Regardless of planting in a container or in the ground, the soil should always remain damp, and pests must be kept away for a successful yield. Keep in mind that if you want to use pesticides, there are alternatives to chemical pesticides that you might want to consider, particularly since you will be consuming this garden. Natural pesticides that can help deter pests from your garden include:

■ Diatomaceous earth: As a natural compound made of tiny fossilized plants, the minerals slice insects’ exoskeletons, killing them on contact. Sprinkle a cup on the soil’s surface.
■ Copper pest stopper: To prevent snails and slugs, use their enemy: copper. Lay a wire around the plants they attack, which may act as a fence for them, due to their strong copper aversion.
■ Apple cider vinegar: Combine three parts water to one part vinegar for a safe and effective insect repellant. Be sure to spray above the plant, letting the mist settle on top. Spraying directly on your plants can harm them as the solution may be too acidic. You can even add a few drops of essential oils, such as lavender, cedar, or lemon as an extra deterrent.

Your Garden is a Work of Art
Get creative with your garden design. Even though this is a useful garden, it can still be a thing of beauty that provides visual interest in your summer yard. Consider the concentric circle, a popular salsa garden design. Since tomatoes are the base of salsas, plant them in the middle. Try Roma tomatoes, which are juicy and bursting with sweetness. Use bamboo stakes or sticks gathered from outside as a trellis to keep them upright. Tie them with twine.

Next, plant some pepper plants. Jalapenos are popular since they are the perfect mix of sweet and spicy. But there are also many other varieties of peppers…habanero, serrano, and bell peppers… oh my! Peppers are the sass in your salsa. Whether you are looking to turn up the heat with habaneros or sweeten the base with bell peppers, a salsa isn’t complete without them.

The next circle should be onions. Candy hybrid onions offer a bright white color to your salsa, as well as a sweet flavor.

Herbs, like cilantro or basil, are great to plant on the outside of the circle. Once they grow, the leaves cascade down the side of your garden, giving you the appearance of a lush salsa jungle.

Depending on how large your space is, you can plant more or less of your favorite ingredients. Another popular salsa ingredient is tomatillos; they may be tiny, but these green tomatoes pack a puckered punch. If you’re looking to add a tart flavor to your salsa, tomatillos are a great way to go. Add scallions, mint and basil, and you have salsa verde, or “green salsa.”

Salsa Isn’t Just a Dance
When it comes to creating your favorite salsa, it’s all about how the two elements—texture and flavor—dance together. Depending on your favorite texture, you can use a variety of kitchen tools to get the right consistency.

Finely chopped or chunky pieces make up the pico de gallo style, where you can see each ingredient with each bite. All you need is your handy chef’s knife! A smoother consistency calls for using a blender or food processor. If you’re unsure about blending or processing all at once, the “pulse” button is a great way for you to slowly achieve the desired texture.

Now that you’ve grown your own salsa garden, it’s time to feast! Enjoy this recipe for a simple grilled habanero salsa at your next summer soiree using the bounty from your own garden.

Grilled Habanero Salsa
1 1/4 lbs. tomatoes (Roma, beefsteak, heirloom—whatever you prefer)
1 bell pepper
1 small red onion
2 habanero peppers*
3 cloves garlic, peels intact
Olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked salt or sea salt
1 large, juicy lime
1/3 cup well-chopped cilantro
*feel free to substitute with another type of pepper

Slice tomatoes, pepper and onion into large wedges. Set aside one wedge each of the tomato and pepper, and two wedges of the onion. You will add these at the end.

In a large bowl, toss the sliced tomatoes, bell pepper and onion with the habanero peppers and garlic cloves with a thin coating of oil and a pinch of salt. Grill the veggies, except garlic, over direct heat for 10-15 minutes until the edges are charred. Place the garlic cloves in a foil pouch on the grill. If you’re using a broiler, place the tray in the upper third rack and broil for 15-20 minutes until the edges are charred, but the veggies aren’t completely cooked.

Set your grilled/broiled veggies aside to cool completely. Remove stems of habaneros, leaving the seeds intact. Push the garlic out of its skin.

Using a food processor, pulse the cooled, grilled veggies with the habaneros and garlic until they are just chopped up. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Using a chef’s knife, finely chop the reserved raw tomato, pepper and onions to add them to the salsa mixture. Stir them in along with the salt, lime juice and cilantro. Adjust your seasoning to taste—a pinch of sugar if the tomatoes aren’t sweet, chipotle powder for a smoky/hotter taste, or more cilantro.
Yields 2.5 cups. Keeps refrigerated for about a week.

Recipe adapted from the Sprouted Kitchen blog, sproutedkitchen.com.

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