When I think of salsa, I think of fresh tomato salsa with chunks of red tomato and bell peppers. Salsa is Spanish for “sauce” so there are many different types of salsa to enjoy. Recently I showed you how I prepared a Chipotle salsa and now I want to teach you how to make tomatillo salsa as taught to me by my Mexican friend Paula.
What Are Tomatillos?
Sometimes called green tomatoes or husk tomatoes, tomatillos are a fruit about the size of a ping-pong ball with an inedible, paper-like husk surrounding them. When ripe, they can be yellow, purple or even red but most often you are going to find the green ones.
When buying tomatillos, look for husks that are intact and light brown. If the husk is dry and shriveled, the fruit may not be in very good condition. Make sure the tomatillo is firm and free of blemishes. If you can’t find them fresh, you may be able to find them canned in your local market but they are not the same.
Tomatillos have a tart flavor and are a staple in Mexican cooking. Paula says this tomatillo salsa is popular in Mexico because tomatillos are so available and inexpensive. She told me they were so plentiful in the town she grew up in, you could just walk down the road and find them growing wild.
Although the first domesticated tomato, the ones we are familiar with, may have first been grown by the Aztecs of Central Mexico, red tomatoes are often too expensive for many Mexicans to use for their salsas. Therefore, tomatillos are a good substitute and very popular to use in sauces (salsas).
Don’t confuse a tomatillo with the green tomato made famous in the 1991 film, Fried Green Tomatoes. They are not the same. Although they are in the same family, nightshade, they are a different genus.
Sauce or Salsa
Yes, I know they mean the same thing but how you are going to use this sauce determines how much water you use. Paula uses tomatillo sauce like most of us would use a sauce, for additional flavor for chicken, pork and fish dishes. She may use it inside a fajita or to cook enchiladas in.
What I am saying is she pours it on, over or into whatever she is serving it with and therefore makes it very liquid. If you want to use this as a more traditional salsa to serve with chips, use half the amount of water for a thicker result.
How Hot Do You Want It?
This gets really confusing because the first time we made this, Paula used 6 jalapeños. The next time we used only 2 and it was even spicier. When asked, she said it depends on the jalapeños’s age. Older jalapeño peppers are hotter than young ones. See my post on jalapeños peppers. So for this recipe I’m going to say 2 to 6 jalapeños depending on how hot you like it and how hot the jalapeños are.