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How to Make Easy and Delicious Tomatillo Salsa Verde

Updated on June 30, 2012

Fresh & Easy Salsa Verde in a Molcajete

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A Young Tomatillo Plant Grown from Seed

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A Tomatillo Flower

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The Fascinating Tomatillo


Many people mistakenly think that the spicy green salsa served in Mexican restaurants is made from green tomatoes; it is not, the main ingredient is instead the interesting tomatillo.

The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica ) is a sprawling plant of the nightshade family that bears small, spherical, green or green-purple fruit protected by papery husks. Tomatillos are a staple in Mexican cuisine and the key ingredient in salsa verde, the ubiquitous green sauce used in a wide variety of dishes, both traditional and or of recent creation. Tomatillos are tender plants, quickly killed by frost, and are therefore grown as annuals in cooler climates. The plants are often self-incompatible, which means they cannot self-pollinate and require a second plant nearby in order to guarantee a crop.

Although tomatillos are sometimes called "green tomatoes", they should not be confused with green, unripe tomatoes; tomatoes belong to the same botanical family as the tomatillo (Solanaceae ), but are classified in a different genus. Tomatillos are more closely related to the Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana ), which grows wild in a wide range of habitats in both the new and old worlds.

The technical classification of the tomatillo is as follows:

Kingdom: Plantae: Angiosperms: Eudicots (unranked): Asterids

Order: Solanales Family: Solanaceae Genus: Physalis

Species: P. philadelphica

Ripe Tomatillos

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Cooking with Tomatillos


Ripe tomatillos should be firm and very bright green; the green color and tart, acidic flavor are their main culinary contributions. The purple and red-ripening varieties have a mild sweetness—unlike the green-ripening cultivars—and are therefore more suitable for fruit-like uses like jams and desserts. Like their close relative the Cape gooseberry, tomatillos have a very high pectin content and are therefore added to preserves in order to gel the mixture. Another distinguishing characteristic is a sticky coating on the fruit, located on the underside of the papery husk. Fortunately, it rinses off with plain water.

Tomatillos are not difficult to grow, although the plants tend to become long, unruly tendrils that take up a lot of space in the garden and keep trying to take over the entire yard. Their needs are much the same as tomato plants, although they are more difficult to keep within the bounds of a cage. Because they need warmth right from the start, the plants need to be started from seed very early, so buying young plants is easier, although, unless you are fortunate enough to live in an area with a large Latino population, it can be difficult to find the plants in garden centers. Ask for them; next year they may be right there to buy.

Ripe tomatillos will keep for about two weeks if refrigerated. They will last even longer if the husks are removed and the fruits are refrigerated in sealed plastic bags. They may also be frozen whole or sliced for future use.

Authentic, Fresh & Easy Salsa Verde

Easy to make and so delicious!

Cook Time

  • Prep time: 15 min
  • Ready in: 15 min
  • Yields: Makes approximately 2 cups Salsa Verde

Tomatillos Ready for Salsa Verde

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5 stars from 4 ratings of Salsa Verde

Ingredients

  • 6 Large Tomatillos
  • 1/2 Medium white or red onion, Coarsely chopped
  • 1 Serrano pepper, Stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 Large Poblano pepper, Stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 Large clove garlic, Coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Cillantro leaves, Firmly packed in measuring cup
  • 1 T. Lime juice
  • 1/2 t. sugar or stevia

How hot do you like it?

For more heat, add 1 small jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and coarsely chopped. For a milder salsa, substitute any mild pepper for all or part of the serrano and poblano peppers.

Cut the tomatillos in half

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Remove the stems from the tomatillos

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How to Make Perfect Salsa Verde

  1. Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse them well.
  2. Cut the tomatillos in half and place cut side down in a baking pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Place under a broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin. Chill in refrigerator for 10 minutes. Peel off the blackened skin.
  3. Put peeled tomatillos, lime juice, onions, cilantro, serrano peppers, garlic, and sugar in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped and well mixed. Season to taste with salt. Chill in refrigerator and serve with chips and with any southwestern dish.

Place tomatillos in foil lined pan

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Broil tomatillos until blackened

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Poblano & serrano peppers, onion, garlic

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Chop cillantro

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The Ancient Aztec Molcajete

Use it to prepare guacamole, salsa verde, salsa rojo and other fabulous sauces!
Use it to prepare guacamole, salsa verde, salsa rojo and other fabulous sauces! | Source

Grind cillantro into the garlic & lime juice

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Add peppers & tomatillos and grind and pound together

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A good selection of authentic molcajetes from which to choose:

How to Make Salsa Verde with a Molcajete


If you have one, you can also use a molcajete (pronounced: mol-keh-hey-tey) to make salsa verde. A molcajete is an authentic Mexican mortar and pestle, hand carved of volcanic stone and perfect for grinding herbs and for mixing salsas and guacamole. Evidence of the use of the molcajete goes back thousands of years into the distant past of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, evolving from the metate , a primitive stone slab used for grinding food ingredients. In Nathuatl, the language of the Aztecs, molcajete means “sauce bowl.” Mine was a gift, and I use it to prepare and serve guacamole as well as to make wonderful fresh green and red salsas.

If you use a molcajete, chop the onion and peppers a bit finer and chop the cilantro and tomatillos a bit as well. Start by grinding the garlic clove with the lime juice and sugar, then add and grind and pound together the onion and peppers and finally add the broiled, peeled, chopped tomatillos, giving the salsa a final grinding to mix everything together. I prefer the coarser, chunkier salsa made in my molcajete to one made in a processor. As crazy as it sounds, everything simply tastes better when made in the molcajete, and looks spectacular served it in, as well.

Salsa verde is a versatile sauce that can be used chilled, at room temperature or heated. Serve it cold with chips; use a spoonful as the bottom layer of ceviche; serve burritos or fajitas on a pool of warm salsa verde.

Although it’s wonderful fresh, I like to make a huge batch at the end of summer and freeze the salsa in small containers to have a taste of summer in the midst of winter.

Enjoy!


(I am an artist and the author of the Suburban Sprawl series of novels as well as two nonfiction books. Find out more about my work at RobertaLeeArt.com.)


Copyright © Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.

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    • Britta Gupta profile image

      Britta 2 years ago from Kansas City

      I love the tomatillo info at the start! This article is pretty intense :)

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Looks delicious. I'll have to give it a try.

    • profile image

      bestentryDSLR 4 years ago

      Tomatillo is amazing. Tomatillo salsa is even more amazing. I'm going to try this out. Thanks! Voted up!

    • Aplethora23 profile image

      AngPow 4 years ago from North Cali

      Wow. I am very impressed! I like the way you organized your Hub, covering all topics included in your recipe down to the Tomatillo plant and flower. This is amazing. Oh and the salsa sounds delicious. I will definitely be making this soon! Thank you for the thorough info.

    • profile image

      ignugent17 5 years ago

      This is new to me tomatillo. It looks good and healthy. Voted up and more. :-)

    • Angelo52 profile image

      Angelo52 5 years ago from Central Florida

      Beautifully done. Great recipes and excellent explanation of the tomatillo.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      We love eating the green salsa in Mexican restaurants. Thanks to your hub, we can now make it at home. Gave this 5 stars and rated it useful. Thanks!

    • DIYmyOmy profile image
      Author

      DIYmyOmy 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Thank you for the kind words! I'm still new to HubPages, still learning. Try the recipe, it really is easy and you can made it as you like: chunky or smooth, hot or mild. Thanks again!

    • profile image

      oceansider 5 years ago

      Thank you for your tomatillo salsa recipe...it sounds really good and it's easy to make. Your hub is very professionally done - it looks really good.

      Helen