Have you sized up what look like little green tomatoes with papery husks while strolling through the produce section of the grocery store, only to pass them by? This green salsa offers a compelling reason to put what are actually tomatillos in your cart.
I first fell in love with salsa verde while in South Beach, Florida several years ago. A casual restaurant called Dirt Farm makes a bowl that is dressed with salsa verde, which I could eat by the spoonful. Over the years, I asked questions as to their preferred salsa verde techniques and used the clues I picked up along the way as I formulated my recipe.
Somehow, when eating out, I always seem to think of taking a photo after I’ve enjoyed the meal! ⇩⇩ The “Clean Bowl” is (was 😂) Dirt Farm’s roasted veggie and grain bowl topped with an egg and salsa verde and it’s delicious!
So, what exactly are tomatillos and how do you use them?
Tomatillos (pronounced “toe-mah-TEE-yos”) are small, round fruits with a pretty green color and papery husk. They’re native to Mexico and are commonly used in Mexican cuisine to make salsas and sauces.
Occasionally, you may see them referred to as Mexican husk tomatoes, Mexican tomatoes, husk cherries, or jamberries (which reminds me of Jamberry, a favorite children’s book. If you have toddlers in your life, it’s so much fun to read aloud!)
Unlike naturally sweet tomatoes, tomatillos are naturally tart with a bright, almost citrusy flavor. They can be eaten raw, but when roasted, tomatillos become a little sweeter.
Tomatillos should be bright green, firm to the touch, and completely fill their husk. These are all good signs that the tomatillos are fully mature, which translates to better flavor. Bypass any with blemishes or soft spots.
Tomatillos are most abundant summer through early fall, but they can be found in most larger grocery stores year-round.
As a bonus, tomatillos are a good source of dietary fiber and a wide variety of nutrients including iron, magnesium, vitamin C, and potassium. Like tomatoes (and eggplants and peppers), tomatillos are members of the nightshade family.
Though I’ve always been a fan of store-bought tomato salsas, few brands of jarred salsa verde seem to compare to freshly made. (If you know of one, please comment!) Store-bought salsa verde will do in a pinch, but I think you’ll notice a big difference if you make your own.
Following is a quick visual of the roasting and blending steps so you can see what the tomatillos look like along the way:
The ingredient list is minimal, and the steps are quite easy.
How to use salsa verde:
- First and foremost, if you can use tomato salsa, figure you can substitute salsa verde.
- Beyond that, think of salsa verde as a lovely sauce for grilled or roasted chicken, pork, shrimp, or salmon.
- Or enjoy it as a topping for tacos, quesadillas, burritos and burrito bowls, and virtually anything Tex-Mex.
- Use it as a dip with your favorite tortilla chips.
- Top cooked eggs or a frittata with salsa verde.
- Enjoy it as a condiment for burgers, whether beef, turkey, or veggie. (I like to make a Southwestern burger with sliced avocado, a little spicy mayo, and pepper or Monterrey Jack cheese. Lettuce and tomato optional.)
- Stir into cooked rice and top with seasoned black beans and any other taco-type toppings for a speedy, plant-based, protein-rich meal.
- Salsa verde tastes great stirred into a baked potato and topped with cheese. The addition of black beans makes it a meal. Avocado or guacamole provide healthy, satisfying fat.
- It perks up a basic turkey sandwich, too!
For a different twist:
You could blend in an avocado or two for a creamy salsa verde, adding additional seasoning and lime juice to taste. In this case, the refrigerator life will be about three days. You could also remove half the batch from the food processor or blender and enjoy the salsa both ways.
- 1¼-1½ pounds tomatillos*
- 1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, halved and seeded (you may keep some or all of the seeds for more heat if desired)
- 2-3 cloves garlic, unpeeled (may omit or use 1-2 more as desired)
- ½ cup chopped yellow or white onion
- ¼ cup lightly packed cilantro (I include stems)
- 1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- ½-1 teaspoon kosher salt
Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse well. (The tomatillos will feel a little sticky; this is normal.) Preheat the broiler. Cut the tomatillos in half and place them and the pepper cut side down on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Tuck the garlic cloves (in their skins) in between the tomatillos.
Place about 4 inches under the broiler for 3-5 minutes, checking on the early side, to lightly blacken the skins of the tomatillos in spots.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven, carefully flip the tomatillos, pepper, and garlic and broil for 3-5 more minutes, checking again on the early side, or until the tomatillos are lightly blistered and have a few more charred spots. Remove from the oven, and when cool enough to handle, remove the garlic skins and discard.
Place the broiled tomatillos, pepper, garlic, onion, cilantro, and lime juice, and salt (starting with 1 tablespoon of lime juice and ½ teaspoon of salt) in a blender or food processor and pulse or blend until all ingredients are finely chopped and the mixture is mostly smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Season to taste with more lime juice and salt. (I tend to use 1½ tablespoons lime juice and between ¾ and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. The flavors will meld and improve over time.)
The salsa will thicken slightly over time due to the natural pectin in the tomatillos. When stored in a jar or airtight container in the refrigerator, the salsa will maintain freshness for at least 1 week. Give the salsa a quick stir before serving.
Serve with chips or as a salsa accompaniment anywhere you would use red salsa.
*Tomatillos vary in size, so it’s hard to give a reliable number per pound. I recommend using the scale at the store where you purchase them.