Fermented salsa verde, made with tomatillos, garlic, cilantro, and plenty of jalapeños, has a vibrant, bright flavor marked by notes of citrus and the lightest touch of sea salt. It takes less than 5 minutes of active time in the kitchen, and just a few days to culture on your countertop.
What is it?
Fermented salsa is a salsa that has been allowed to culture for several days to a few weeks. This process imparts a deep, complex flavor with acidic undertones. And, like sauerkraut, sour pickles, and many other fermented foods and drinks, it tends to be a good source of probiotics.
Ingredients typically include tomatoes or tomatillos, as well as onion, garlic, chili peppers, cilantro, citrus juice, salt, and spices. Sometimes, cooks will also add a starter culture, like whey, to speed up fermentation, but you can make it without whey, too. You use this same technique with other spicy ferments, such as fermented pepper mash.
Should you add whey to fermented salsa?
Many fermented salsa recipes call for whey or another starter culture. The popular cookbook Nourishing Traditions recommends using whey in all fermented vegetable recipes, but it's largely an unnecessary addition.
If you want to speed up the fermentation process or if you're concerned about salt intake, adding whey or another starter to your salsa recipe can be helpful. But, for most of us, it's unnecessary. And your salsa will come out just fine without it. Further, salsas fermented without whey often have a more complex flavor and better texture, too.
It's really easy to make fermented salsa. You start by blitzing tomatillos, garlic, white onion, jalapeños, and coriander in a food processor. After that, you'll seal it in a jar and let it culture at room temperature for a few days and up to a week.
And while it's easy to make, there are a few tips to keep in mind to ensure your salsa ferments safely and comes out just how you like it.
- Use a fermentation lock. A tight seal that prevents oxygen from getting in while allowing the carbon dioxide that builds up during fermentation will help prevent mold and spoilage.
- Watch for bubbles. Tiny bubbles should appear at the surface of your salsa while it ferments, and they should be visible through your jar. It's a good sign that the beneficial bacteria are doing their work.
- Watch for color changes. As the salsa ferments, it will become more acidic, which may cause it to change color from vivid green to dull green.
- Salt helps keep your ferment safe. Adding salt to the salsa helps keep mold and other microbes that can cause spoilage at bay while beneficial bacteria take root. If you want to minimize salt, consider adding a starter culture instead.
- Separation is normal. Fermentation may cause your ingredients to separate as they culture. Don't worry! It's normal. Just swirl it with a spoon to reincorporate the ingredients.
Once you've mastered the basic recipe, you can make some simple substitutions based on what you have in your kitchen, or what your family likes to eat. Here are some of our favorites.
- Make the salsa with tomatoes. Substitute the tomatillos with seeded, diced plum tomatoes. And, instead of puréeing the salsa to a smooth consistency, coarsely chop the ingredients instead.
- Swap the coriander for cumin. Coriander gives this salsa a bright citrusy note, but you can also add ground cumin for an earthy flavor.
- Try chipotle chiles and smoked sea salt for a nice, smoky flavor.
- Eat it fresh. If you don't want to ferment the salsa, or don't have time, you can eat it fresh, too. Consider cutting the sea salt down to 1 teaspoon.