Judges taste the entries at the 29th Annual Bloomington Salsa Contest. Courtesy photo

With double the entries from the previous year and not a cloud in the sky, Natascha Buehnerkemper, marketing administrator for Bloomingfoods, says the 29th Annual Bloomington Salsa Contest couldn’t have gone any better.

“The beautiful weather that day had to have played a part in the amazing attendance,” Buehnerkemper says of the two-hour event, which drew more than 1,000 people. “The place was absolutely packed.”

The contest was co-sponsored by Bloomingfoods and the City of Bloomington.

Forty-four entry packets, each containing a recipe card, two 16-ounce containers, and an entry form, were sold for $5 each at both Bloomingfoods locations. Contestants could enter salsas in three categories: cooked, raw, and specialty (in which tomatoes could be included, but could not be the main ingredient).

Judges for the contest were Chris Gaal, Carol Kugler, and Bobbi Boos (cooked); Lynn Schwartzberg, Stacey Giroux, and Harold Adkisson (raw); and Susan Welsand, Tim Clougher, and Emily Winters (specialty).

Arthur Murray Dance Studios provided music and salsa dance demonstrations, while Upland Chef Chris Swartzentruber created two salsas on-site for the event, and Bivi’s Tamales provided salsas to sample. Three tents showcased the contest entries, and market attendees were free to sample them while they lasted.

First- through third-place prizes were awarded in each category, with winners receiving gift bags. The bags were filled with items donated by local businesses which sponsored the contest. “This is a great example of how our community works,” Buehnerkemper says. “Bloomingfoods and the Farmers’ Market wouldn’t exist without our local vendors, and the prizes we could give to our winners are an illustration of that.” —Carmen Siering

Visitors to the contest could sample the salsa entries as long as they lasted. Courtesy photo


The Winners

1st Place Raw Salsa

Salsa del Alma (Soul Salsa)

by Elizabeth Sweeney

This is called Soul Salsa because sometimes eating it is just the kind of experience we need to restore energy to our souls. Voluptuous heirloom tomatoes provide the body of the salsa, while savory cumin; sharp, hot chiles; and the bright, clean flavors of fresh lime and cilantro leave the palate satisfied. This salsa works well on thin or hearty chips as well as tacos and huevos rancheros.


  • 6-8 assorted heirloom tomatoes
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1/2 Hungarian wax pepper, seeds and membrane discarded
  • 1 serrano chile, seeds and membrane discarded
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, washed well, chopped roughly
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lime zest
  • Juice of 1 lime


Chop the onions roughly and soak them in a bowl of ice water while preparing the rest of the salsa.

Wash and core the tomatoes. Cut each in half and squeeze out the seeds.

Process tomatoes in stages in a food processor. I like to have some tomatoes that are close to a purée (about 45 seconds) and some that are chunkier. Leave some in large chunks so you can process them with other ingredients later.

Drain tomatoes in a colander for at least 30 minutes.

After draining most of the liquid from the tomatoes, put the larger pieces back into the food processor along with the onions, chiles, garlic, and cilantro. Pulse about eight times, or until the mixture is the preferred consistency.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Add spices to taste. Refrigerate at least 90 minutes.

1st Place Cooked Salsa

Jake’s Tex-Mex Autentico

by Jacob Marks


  • 20 tomatoes: 10 Roma and 10 assorted organic
  • 3 tablespoons cilantro: 2 tablespoons puréed, 1 tablespoon diced
  • 1 red onion: 1/2 finely diced, 1/2 puréed
  • 3 jalapeño peppers: 2 roasted, 1 fresh and deseeded
  • 1 heaping teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • Juice of 1 1/2 limes
  • 10 cloves garlic, puréed
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Cut 3/4 of tomatoes in half and broil on high for 15-20 minutes.

Cut 2 jalapeños in half and broil on low for 15 minutes per side or until browned.

Put tomatoes, jalapeño peppers, 1/2 puréed onion, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, sugar, cumin, lime juice, and garlic into medium pot. Using hand blender, lightly purée until the consistency is chunky.

Add remainder of puréed onion, finely diced onion, and 1 tablespoon of diced cilantro.

Drain excess liquid through mesh strainer. Salt and pepper to taste.

1st Place Specialty Salsa

Avocado Tomatillo Salsa Verde

by Luz Lopez

This salsa is made with fresh, organic ingredients and is very common in Central Mexico where it is used for tacos al pastor or other grilled meats.

Optional: Add chopped fresh onion, cilantro, and top with small pieces of avocado for better flavor.


  • 2 1/2 lbs. tomatillos, husked and rinse
  • 2  large onions
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 4 jalapeño peppers
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 packed cup cilantro
  • 3 avocados
  • 1 lime (optional)


Preheat oven to 450°F.

Peel and chop onions into quarters. Place the tomatillos, onions, garlic, and jalapeños on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with oil.

Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, until the exteriors are blistered but the insides are still slightly raw.

Meanwhile, halve the avocados, remove the seeds, and scoop out the flesh. Cut the jalapeños in half and scrape out the seeds. Discard seeds.

Place half of the tomatillos, onions, jalapeños, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until mostly smooth.

Add half of the cumin, salt, cilantro, and avocado. Pulse until the avocado is pureed into the mixture. Taste for salt.

Repeat with the remaining ingredients. If you desire an extra-tart quality, add a bit of lime juice at the end.