My mom has a friend named Maria Garcia. She’s adorable for so many reasons, and not just because her name rhymes. She’s always dressed in cheery, colorful clothing. She’s never without a broad smile and the room is perpetually filled with her lyrical laughter. My favorite thing about her though?
She usually has a shot of tequila in her hand.
That, and she makes a killer tomatillo salsa. I’ve known Maria for most of my life and lucky for me, her signature salsa makes an appearance at most of our gift-giving occasions.
I love tomatillo salsa. Give me a choice between salsa verde and just about every other condiment known to man, and the green variety is going to win 9 times out of 10. But Maria’s is something special. She doesn’t use any onion, which I like because I’ve had too many salsas where the onion dominated the flavor.
And she doesn’t shy away from the spice–another key to my heart. In truth, I ask chefs to make dishes “spicy like you hate me,” and yet I have never, not ever, used the number of jalapeños Maria suggests in her recipe. She is far more bad-ass than I.
She also boils her jalapeños and tomatillos, which I like as artistic license. I’ve had salsa verde made from fresh ingredients blended in a food processor, and while delicious, that version of tomatillo salsa tastes much “greener” in flavor and less seasoned or intense. Furthermore, the addition of lime juice becomes essential, otherwise there is hardly any tang. When you boil your veggies, the spice becomes spicier and the tang comes out of the tomatillos naturally.
Which brings me to tomatillos, the funny little things. They tend to be quite hard when you purchase them and enclosed in a little husk. Although I wasn’t able to find any documented reason why, I’m told the husk can be boiled with nopales (cactus) to remove the slime that nopales–and similar plants like aloe–are notorious for. Which makes me wonder if it can be used when cooking okra…And also whether this is just an old esposa’s tale…
But I digress.
Ironically, tomatillos also have a lot of pectin in them. I say ironic because the husks reportedly remove goo, whereas the fruit itself can cause your salsa to get thick and well, goo-ey, once refrigerated. If this happens to you, it simply means that not enough liquid was added to the recipe. Just stir in a tablespoon at a time of warm water until you reach the desired consistency.
The only thing I do differently from Maria when I make tomatillo salsa–aside from using fewer than 10 jalepenos–is to add lime zest. As stated above, I don’t really feel that lime juice is a necessary addition, but part of me was yearning for a nod to that flavor. Zest to the rescue! I looooove citrus zest–it’s just got such zing to it! Apparently I also love four letter nouns that start with “z!”
So if you’re down with the zest, go for it. But know that it’s totally optional. I assure you the results are delicious either way!
Oh and one last thing. This is delicious on fish tacos, where it can comingle with a little lime-crema. But if dairy is no bueno in your universe, try my Avocado Crema variation. Just blend half a ripe avocado with a cupish of green salsa in your food processor until the avocado is completely blended and the mixture is creamy. Add more or less salsa depending on how pourable you’d like your sauce to be. I’ll sometimes make it on the thicker side and dip cold, crunchy crudite into it. Yum!
- 8-10 tomatillos, husks removed
- 1-3 jalapeños, depending on your spice tolerance
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 tsp salt, to taste
- zest of one lime, optional
- 1/4 c water
- small bunch cilantro leaves, torn from stems
- tomatoes, optional
- half a ripe avocado, peeled and seeded (for Avocado “Crema” variation)
- Put tomatillos and jalapeños in a saucepan with cool water. Bring to a boil and simmer 8 minutes until tomatillos are soft.
- Remove from water and allow to cool to the touch.
- Remove fibrous stems from tomatillos and peppers (retaining seeds and pulp) and place in food processor with garlic, salt and lime zest, if using. Process until combined. Add water, beginning with 1/4 c until salsa is slightly thinner than the perfect consistency. It will thicken in the fridge.
- Add cilantro leaves and pulse until just combined.
- Taste. If your salsa is too spicy, you can add whole fresh tomatoes. Just add one at a time until you reach your desired spice level. Or you can make the crema variation that follows, since the fat in the avocado also cuts down on the spice quotient.
- For Avocado Crema: Pour salsa into a bowl or beaker, preferably one with a pour spout. No need to clean the food processor.
- Process avocado until smooth and creamy. Pour in 3/4 to 1 cup of salsa and process until combined.