Salsa is finding it was made for so much more than dipping, and local salsa makers are creating fresh salsas which give new meaning to the term garden variety.
Once considered an afterthought to tacos, fresh salsa is popping up in main dishes not typically associated with Mexican fare. It's no wonder salsa has become a popular condiment: fresh salsa is simple to make and is a healthy alternative to high-caloric dips and dressings.
Fresh salsa vendors can be found Saturdays at the Farmer's Market in Willmar, but don't look to spot them behind rows of mason jars.
Chuck Roelofs, of C&S Gardens in Willmar, has been making fresh salsa for more than 10 years. He said salsas have come a long way since the standard Mason jar variety. Typical staples like tomatoes, onions and peppers are being replaced with fruits, spices, herbs and vegetables.
"The ingredients we use in salsa today would have been unheard of 10 years ago," Roelofs said.
Lemongrass, mint, ginger, thyme, basil and cilantro have found their way into Roelofs' salsa. Some of his more unique batches have included papaya, nectarines, eggplant and squash.
"I'll throw in whatever I happen to have on hand that day," said Roelofs. "I've never made the same salsa twice."
Kornell Erickson, of Kornells Gardens in Willmar, has added mandarin oranges, raspberries and apples to his fresh salsas. Erickson, who has been making fresh salsa for 36 years, began adding fruit and herbs to his salsa simply because he hated to see fresh produce go to waste.
Erickson's attempt to make use of his overabundant produce was a hit. Roelofs, also inclined to use fruit in his salsas, said the sweetness and citrus from the fruit complements the heat from the peppers nicely. Roelofs also always includes a splash of lemon, lime or orange juice in his salsas. Erickson recommends leaving out vinegar and brown sugar when adding fruit to salsa.
Salsa makers see anything but red once they incorporate green, orange and yellow produce to their batches. Erickson enjoys combining his 37 different pepper varieties to create colorful salsas.
One of his most popular salsas at Willmar's Farmer's Market is his yellow salsa, which uses yellow and orange tomatoes and peppers.
Though they may be tasty, fresh salsas don't have nearly the shelf life of the canned variety.
Cristy Rieland of Willmar sells her fresh mango salsa at the Willmar's Farmers Market every Saturday. To ensure freshness, Rieland must prepare her salsa just one day in advance. She also needs to keep her salsa and pico de gallo refrigerated. Her salsas typically have a shelf life of just seven days.
Rieland grew up in the Philippines where her family had a mango orchard. The salsa recipe was her mother's, and she introduced it to Willmar two years ago.
Living in Willmar, Rieland doesn't have the luxury of picking fresh mangos from the tree in the backyard. Instead, she travels to St. Cloud where she purchases her mangos fresh from the Asian Market in St. Cloud.
The ripeness of the mango is key to the success of her salsa, she said. So far mango salsa has been successful. Rieland has sold out of the salsa and pico de gallo on numerous occasions.
Rieland sells her mango salsa by the tub, or atop fresh egg rolls prepared at the market. Rieland also recommends pouring the salsa over fish.
Finding the right salsa recipe is all about trial and error, said Rieland. She suggests starting your salsas with the basic ingredients, and experimenting from there. Fresh salsa is difficult to screw up because of its simplicity, but all salsa makers swear by the golden rule of fresh salsa making: use the freshest ingredients possible.
Try explaining that to a bottle of processed ketchup.