Quick-Fermented Salsa

by Chance on May 18, 2016

Quick-Fermented. You might be wondering what that means. Fermentation is a chemical reaction. According to dictionary.com, fermentation is “a chemical reaction in which sugars are broken down into smaller molecules that can be used in living systems. Alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine and whiskey, are made from the controlled use of fermentation.” Here, the sugars that are being eaten are the sugars present in the fruit (tomatoes) used. In this case, unlike in those of the alcoholic beverages mentioned above, it’s a bacteria doing the eating (when you’re making alcohol, it’s usually yeasts doing the eating). The bacteria doing that eating belongs to the lactobacillus family and they live around us and on those tomatoes we’re using for the salsa. That family name may be familiar to you if you purchase yogurt as it’s one of the “probiotic” strains added to yogurt to culture it. When you see “L. bulgaricus” or “L. Acidophilus”, that “L.” stands for lactobacillus. So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that lactobacillus bacteria naturally live in our bodies. They’re part of what’s now being called our microbiome, or, all the bacteria that make us up. It’s a good thing to replenish the bacteria that naturally live in our bodies when possible because there are a lot of things we regularly do that kill that same bacteria. A few of those things are… living stressed out lives… taking antibiotics… drinking chlorinated water… it’s actually a pretty long list, so I’ll just leave it at that. It turns out that those bacteria living in our microbiome are pretty darned important. Some people are making the case right now that they’re actually fundamental to our health. I agree. (I’m not going to bog down this recipe blog with scientific notations. Sorry. I’m going to save my effort for the recipe card. If you’re interested, there are all kinds of sources for finding out this information. Some reputable, some not. I love the public Wild Fermentation group on Facebook that was inspired by Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation book. There is a great files section with solid links. I also love the book Fermented Veggies by Christopher and Kirsten Shockey.)

So, now that you know what fermented means, you might be wondering why I tacked it onto my salsa recipe.  We have a joke in my family. They’ll see a jar sitting on the counter and they’ll say, “are you fermenting that?” To which I reply, nonchalantly, “Nah, it’s just sitting around.” The joke is, the jars are just sitting around. But the bacteria in the jar is going wild! By creating the right conditions (basically, adding salt to inhibit other things from growing and keeping it at room temperature), the lactobacillus bacteria get a chance to chomp on those sugars and when they do that, they multiply. They also transform something from ho-hum mundane into something with depth and dimension that wasn’t there before. In addition to getting some great digestion-boosting bacteria, lacto-fermentation (which has nothing to do with lactose from milk) essentially preserves your food. That’s kinda how it developed – as a method of food preservation (sauerkraut, anyone?). Some ferments take longer than others and this is a quick-ferment because it will only be “sitting around” for 24-48 hours. By the way, that yogurt and the bottles of expensive probiotics sitting in your fridge? Homemade probiotic ferments blow them away with their total bacteria count!

When I teach classes about fermentation – sourdough bread, kombucha, water kefir, fermenting veggies – I always tell people that embracing bacteria, ceasing to think of it as the enemy, will change your outlook on life. If, however, you’re not quite ready to embrace the idea of creating the right conditions for bacteria to thrive, you can fall back on the fact that this recipe creates a delicious salsa. And that’s what *really* matters, right? Now, I want to add here that it sometimes take my family a while to catch on and fully embrace my weird kitchen experiments. Sometimes they don’t catch on at all and I sadly put them away (goodbye forever, kombucha). This salsa, however, had no such acceptance curve. One of our favorite restaurant salsas comes from La Fonda Latina. It’s a freshly made salsa, but sometimes it’s a little fizzy. We like it best that way and one day, in an Aha! moment, it occurred to me that all I needed to do was let it “sit around” in my kitchen and we would be able to avoid their bad service and eat endless amounts of salsa. It’s been a favorite since then and with summer coming up, it’s a great way to use up fresh tomatoes. (In April, when I made this, I bought the best available which happened to be organic vine ripened. Sometimes it’s grape or cherry tomatoes. Do make an effort to buy the best quality you can because it greatly affects the end result.)

Quick Fermented Salsa
Ingredients: fresh, ripe tomatoes (4-6+), 1-2 cloves of garlic, 1/2-1 red onion, 1-2 T fresh cilantro (ingredients can be scaled up as desired)
Peel and coarsely chop garlic cloves and place in a food processor.
Process until finely chopped, stopping to scrape the sides down once.
Core tomatoes and roughly chop into 6-8 pieces.
Add to the food processor and process until pureed.
Add chopped onion and cilantro to a large glass bowl or a large glass jar. Pour tomato- garlic puree on top.
Mix well. Add salt to taste.

This salsa is great as-is, with chips. It’s also fantastic mixed into guacamole (recipe to follow) and could be used as a gazpacho base in the summer.

Quick Fermented Salsa

Quick-Fermented Salsa
Prep time
Total time
A quick-fermented salsa recipe. Great for eating with chips, including in guacamole or for a gazpacho base.
Serves: 3+ cups
  • 2+ cloves of garlic
  • ripe tomatoes (6+)
  • ½-1+ finely chopped red onion
  • 1-2 T finely chopped cilantro
  • salt to taste
  1. Peel the garlic and coarsely chop. Add to a food processor and run until very finely chopped. Scrape down the sides once.
  2. Core tomatoes and roughly chop into 6-8 pieces. Add to the food processor and process until pureed.
  3. Add chopped onion and cilantro to a large glass bowl or a large glass jar. Pour tomato-garlic puree on top. Mix well. Add salt to taste. It should be well seasoned.
  4. Cover and let sit 24-48 hours. You should see small bubbles in the salsa as well as possibly a bubble and/or foam line at the top of the salsa.
  5. If you listen with your ear at the top of the open jar, you will hear it fizzing. Refrigerate. Salsa will keep up to 3 weeks in the fridge. Eat often!


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