When planning a vegetable garden, consider growing the ingredients of your favorite foods. Homemade salsa is easy to prepare. Better yet, the makings are easy to grow and taste so much fresher than anything you’ll get from a jar. Mexican salsa has a long history. Authentic salsa originated with the ancient Aztec and Maya Indians more than 1,000 years ago. After the Spanish invasion in 1521, the culinary habits and traditions of Spain also became a major influence on Mexican food. 

Salsa is one of Mexico’s many gifts to the culinary world. The word salsa simply means sauce, and salsas are a key component of most Mexican meals. The modern recipe is a blend of Old World and New World ingredients: diced tomatoes, onions, chile peppers, garlic, lime juice, herbs and salt. North of the border we call it pico de gallo. More properly it’s called salsa Mexicana, a condiment used to increase the flavor and spiciness of cooked foods. There are as many variations of salsa as there are cooks. By tweaking a few simple ingredients, you can create a vast array of flavors. Grilling, charring or roasting these same ingredients further increases their depth of flavor. Chile-based salsas are best paired with starchy foods. Roasted salsas are best paired with meats.        

Start with homegrown, vine-ripened tomatoes. Romas are the traditional choice, but any firm-fleshed, meaty variety will do.  Rachel and I prefer heirloom varieties like German queen or Cherokee purple. Your choice of chile pepper depends on your tolerance for heat. Again, serranos are the traditional choice, but jalapenos are milder. Most Mexican recipes call for white onions.  They’re crisp and mildly pungent. If you’re going to grow onions, get them in the ground as soon as possible. It’s still too cold to plant tomatoes and peppers. Wait until after Mother’s Day. Garlic is planted in the fall for a summer harvest. Keep that in mind for next year. Cilantro has a citrusy, almost lime-like flavor. It brings a cool taste to spicy foods. This is an essential herb in Mexican cooking, so use it generously. Keep a constant supply of cilantro on hand by planting it from seed every two or three weeks. It grows fast, but bolts just as quickly. Use kosher salt or coarse sea salt for a crunchier, salty taste. Key limes are also called Mexican limes.  Grow these fragrant fruit trees in containers. Just bring them indoors before the first frost. 

You can grow an entire salsa garden in containers. A smaller garden is easier to maintain and won’t take up too much of your time.  When you grow your own salsa, you’re guaranteed exceptional freshness and flavor.

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at rnlyes@hotmail.com