Ah, the tomatillo– no, that’s an armadillo crossed with a tomato. And, no, it’s not synonymous “green tomato.” The tomatillo is unique little creature I discovered and was able to purvey without much difficulty when I lived in Calgary … which isn’t a surprise on account of the city’s fondness for Tex-Mex cuisine. However, it is an ingredient that I’ve found notoriously difficult to come by here in Ottawa. So when I do spy it, I buy it … and it usually ushers in a batch of salsa verde which translates as “green salsa.” (Go figure.)
The tomatillo is a crazy little tomato that always reminds me of a tomato wrapped in a Chinese lantern. Like the Chinese gooseberry, it is a tart fruit that comes sheathed in this papery package that perplexes the average person who doesn’t know what it is. And if they weren’t perplexed at this dry leaf-like exoskeleton, then one touch usually sends it back whence it came: the vibrant green skin is covered in a sticky kind of wax.
So what’s the attraction, you ask? The tomatillo has wonderful sweet and sour quality to it — and when cooked, the heat brings out the natural sugars. The result is a refreshing and very distinct saucing fruit.
Cut into it, and you’d be forgiven if you said it reminded you of an eggplant, persimmon, or even a seedy Granny Smith apple. There is none of the juiciness you associate with a tomato. This is a huge advantage when it comes to using tomatillos to produce sauces and salsas. You can see by the top picture how thick this salsa is — and there is no thickening agent or huge cooking down process to achieve this — in fact you have to add liquid to thin it. I suspect there might be a decent amount of pectin in this fruit as well.
While this is an incredibly simple dish which is a staple throughout Mexico, it varies as much as the family spaghetti recipe. However, most contain the same 3-5 ingredients in some quantity or another. Some have garlic — some don’t; some use cilantro — others do not; and some use stock instead of water (which defeats the vegetarianism if you’re going for that). And, still others don’t cook the final product again — and there are some versions that are totally ‘raw’ which is salsa cruda. Play around with the ingredients and make it fit your own taste.
If you’re looking for a authentic and distinctively Mexican sauce to play on whatever dish you’re making, this will quickly elevate your creation from ordinary to kickass. And no, a salsa verde doesn’t inherently have to be spicy. That’s totally up to you. I keep mine on the mild side so that it has lots of cross appeal — but double the serrano peppers in the dish and/or leave in some of the seeds, and you’ll definitely put some heat into this salsa as well.
Serve with recipe for Grilled Flank Steak Tacos.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20
Total time: 30 minutes
- 1½ lbs (700g) tomatillos, washed, cored, and chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 2-4 serrano chilies, seeds remove and diced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup water, reserved from the cooking of tomatillos
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper (to taste)
- Remove the papery skin from the tomatillos and immerse them in water and, using your hands, rub away the sticky, waxy coating. Cut them in half, remove the top cores, and coarsely chop them into 1-inch pieces and place them in a medium saucepan.
- Chop the onion and crush the garlic and add them to the tomatillos. Slice the chilies in half and remove the inner pith and seeds (source of their heat). Dice them and add to the saucepan as well.
- Add water to the saucepan until just the top level of the tomatillos and bring to boil over med-high heat. Once boiling, reduce to a vigorous simmer for 8-10 minutes until tomatillos have cooked soft.
Strain them through a fine-mesh sieve, making sure to capture and reserve 1/2 cup of the tomatillo ‘water.’
Let cool a few minutes and then add tomatillo mash to a food processor or blender and be careful not splash yourself, blend for 30-60 seconds until smooth and all the seeds have ‘disappeared.’
- In a sauté pan or using the same saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-heat. Add the salsa verde to the pan…
… and season with salt and pepper …… and fry for another 8 minutes, gradually adding some of the reserved tomatillo stock as necessary to prevent sauce from burning or getting too thick.
Once salsa has cooked down a bit and is the desired thickness, remove from heat.
- Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve … but, note, the salsa is better served ‘warm’ vs. ‘chilled.’
- Spoon over your favourite tacos, burritos, Mexican rice, eggs … whatever you want. Enjoy.