Fargo woman's recipe takes top honors at fair's salsa contest

Even while still in the jar, Teri Olek's salsa was beautiful to behold. The jewel-red sauce was studded with black beans, bright yellow corn and habanero peppers. With one bite, judges Sara Watson and Amanda Krabbenhoft knew its flavor lived up t...

Salsa contest
A wide variety of flavors and textures of salsa entries was judged at the first salsa contest held at the Red River Valley Fair in West Fargo. Photo by David Samson / The Forum

Even while still in the jar, Teri Olek's salsa was beautiful to behold.

The jewel-red sauce was studded with black beans, bright yellow corn and habanero peppers.

With one bite, judges Sara Watson and Amanda Krabbenhoft knew its flavor lived up to its pretty package.

"That's very nice," says Watson, with a nod of approval. "It's very balanced. It hits every part of your mouth. Not one part is missing."

After such praise, it's not surprising that Olek's salsa won grand-prize honors at the Red River Valley Fair's salsa-making contest Wednesday in the fairground's Harvest Hall.


It was the first year for the contest, which still managed to attract 10 entries.

Varieties ranged from a roasted pepper variety to a tequila-tinged version and a sweet rhubarb salsa.

"For not really having that many entries, we had a real variety," says Watson, head chef and co-owner of Mosaic Foods in Fargo. "That was really hard to judge. They were all so good."

Even so, Olek's salsa was a standout.

Watson and Krabbenhoft, a member of Mosaic's catering staff, believed the condiment held up in all judging categories: flavor, consistency, balance of flavors and appearance.

"My ultimate factor was the flavor," Watson says. "The flavor was so well-balanced. It lingered, but not too long. It stayed on the chip, but wasn't too thick. It had a bit of a kick. And it was unique with the corn and habaneros."

Olek knows exactly what she's doing; the Fargo woman has made salsa for 20 years. She has 70 tomato plants - better boys, big boys, early girls and goliaths - growing in her garden. They'll all wind up in the "400 to 500" jars of salsa she cans each year. For Olek, salsa-making is a family affair: She learned the tricks of the trade from her parents, Curt and Ardy Steele of Mapleton, N.D.

For years, Olek stuck religiously to her mother's recipe, but decided to change things up this year. Her significant other, Heith, suggested she incorporate habaneros, a chili known for its sweat-inducing spice factor. They also added black beans and corn on a whim.


Olek admits she can't even eat this year's batch without a few dollops of sour cream stirred in to cool the palate. But the salsa has been a giant hit with the many friends and family members she graces with jars of salsa.

In fact, people encourage her to market her salsa all the time. Although flattered, Olek doesn't think she'll put Pace out of business any time soon. "I would love to do that," she says, "but then it would become a job and it wouldn't be so much fun."

Teri's Terrific Habanero/

Corn/Bean Salsa

By Teri Olek of Fargo

Grand prize winner, Red River Valley Fair Salsa Contest

26 pounds tomatoes, peeled and diced


6 small cans tomato paste

5-6 large onions, diced

5-6 large green peppers, diced, seeds and ribs removed

16-18 jalapenos, stems cut off

14-16 large cloves garlic

¾ cup salt

4-5 teaspoons crushed red pepper

5 tablespoons ground cumin


2 pounds frozen corn kernels

4 cans black beans, drained

10-12 habanero peppers, stems cut off

Scald and peel tomatoes, put in large kettle.

Put green pepper and onion in food processor and lightly pulse. Add to tomatoes.

Then cut tops off jalapenos and habaneros, put in food processor with garlic and a few tomatoes until processed very fine. Add to tomatoes.

Add tomato paste, corn, black beans and other ingredients. Bring to a full boil; cook on medium to high heat for 1½ hours.

Pour into hot jars and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.


Roasted Chili Salsa

By Linda Granados of Leonard, N.D.

First prize, inferno division

Roasting all the ingredients imparts this salsa with a nice, smoky depth of flavor. Although classified as "inferno," we didn't find it tongue-scorchingly hot. It starts out sweet, then provides a little "heat chaser." Delicious.

6 roma tomatoes

1 jalapeno

1 onion


2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

Toss all ingredients with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt.

Roast in 425-degree oven for 30 minutes. Put in food processor and pulse to your preferred consistency.

Hot Tequila Salsa

By Rita Forbregd of Fargo

Second prize, hot division

This recipe is ideal if you like your salsa with a bit of heat and an unexpected tequila kick.

2 gallons tomatoes, peeled and diced

6 medium onions, diced

½ cup canning salt

Mix above ingredients in large stock pot and let stand overnight. Drain excess water. Add:

1 serrano pepper, diced

2 large green peppers, diced, seeds removed

3 green chilies, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

5 to 6 jalapenos, diced

Mix with tomato-onion mixture and cook on medium-low heat for ½ hour. Stir in:

¼ cup tequila

1 cup white vinegar

¼ cup lime juice

2 tablespoons mustard seeds

½ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons fresh, chopped cilantro

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon Tabasco

1 tablespoon Mexican seasoning

1 cup tomato sauce

Cook on medium-low heat for 1 hour. Turn heat up slightly and bring to a low boil.

Pour into hot jars with hot lids. Let cool and seal.

Rhubarb Salsa

By Cheri Olday of Fargo

Miscellaneous division

This salsa packs a surprising one-two punch of sweet and savory. Watson would serve it with tortilla chips sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Olday says it is also excellent with pork and chicken.

1 cup sugar

¼ cup water

6 cups cut-up rhubarb

½ cup diced red pepper

½ cup diced yellow pepper

1/3 cup chopped sweet onions

1/3 cup jalapeno peppers, sliced, seeds removed

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons ginger

Combine sugar, water and rhubarb; simmer until tender. Remove and cool to room temperature.

Transfer onions, peppers and jalapenos to food chopper and blend until smooth.

After rhubarb mixture has cooled, blend it in food chopper, along with onion mixture.

Add honey and ginger. Serve warm or cold.

Winners of the Red River Valley Fair's first Salsa Contest

  • Grand-prize winner: Teri Olek, gift certificate to Mosaic cooking class
  • Mild: First: Julie Volk; Second: Maggie Standifer
  • Hot: First: Debra Hernandez; Second: Rita Forbregd
  • Inferno: First: Linda Granados
  • Miscellaneous: First: Olek; Second: Granados Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525

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