When salsa first starting getting popular, every salsa you could find was a variation on one theme: red. Chunky, smooth, hot, sweet: they were all red. As a kid, my favorite after-school snack was Pace Picante sauce with Santitas corn chips, and I never knew any other kind of salsa existed. Tomato based salsa is delicious, of course, and you’ll find no two bigger fans of the stuff than Jess and myself. But as salsa has grown in popularity, varieties have expanded, and a new creature has hit the market: salsa verde, the green salsa.
I first came on salsa verde at La Hacienda restaurant in Hot Springs years ago, and the good, spicy flavor hooked me from the first taste. What were these people doing to make such a piquant and zesty salsa? The answer, I discovered, (as people like Pace started bottling green salsa and putting it on the shelf) was that the green stuff wasn’t tomato based at all, but based on a new (to me), exotic (to me) fruit: the tomatillo, a delicious, tart cousin to the familiar tomato.
There are decent canned tomatillos around, but in the past few years, excellent fresh tomatillos have been popping up in local supermarkets all over – they’re the little green fruits hidden beneath a papery sheath next to your tomatoes and avocados in the produce section. Here in the ‘burbs, most cashiers don’t even know what they are, so be prepared for some funny looks when you check out. Pick tomatillos that are firm with a tough outside coating – dry, withered sheaths mean dried out tomatillos. Get those little gems home, pull off the husk, and wash them until they aren’t sticky. Cut them in half and put them on a baking sheet:
Take your baking sheet and put it under the broiler for 5-7 minutes – what you’re looking for are tops that get a bit blackened and for the tomatillos to give up some of their juice. This will help concentrate the flavor of the tomatillos, which is very important to making a great salsa. Alternatively, if you don’t like broiling, you can roast them in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, but I like the broiling method for its speed and simplicity. When you take the tomatillos out, they should look something like this:
During the time the tomatillos are cooking, take half of a good size onion, two (or more) cloves of garlic, some fresh cilantro, a jalapeno pepper, and the juice of half a lime and put it into your food processor. Add a generous pinch of salt. All these ingredients are subject to your taste, and it’s easiest to start with conservative amounts and adjust for taste as you go:
Toss your tomatillos into the food processor and blend until smooth. Be sure to cover the spout of your processor because as the salsa gets smooth it WILL splash up. Taste and adjust your salt, lime, garlic, and spice as you’d like. We added a couple of dried japones pepper pods to this batch to add heat and just a sprinkling of dark red to compliment the specks of roasted tomatillo in the salsa:
This salsa is good warm from the food processor, or you can refrigerate it overnight to let the flavors mingle a bit (we think that doing both is recommended). Use it as a dip for chips, a topping for tacos, burritos, or omelets – or use it to make the classic dish of cubed pork braised in green sauce. Your whole time investment making this salsa is under twenty minutes, and the fresh flavor will make you wonder why you ever bought salsa verde in a jar. Happy cooking!