Simple Salsa Verde (Authentic Mexican Tomatillo Salsa)
This easy, delicious green sauce-- or salsa verde-- is a culinary staple in Mexican dishes. Adapted from Diana Kennedy's The Cuisine's of Mexico, this legendary table sauce goes great on eggs, beans, fish, meat, soup and as a stand-alone dip. Plus it's loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants that have been enjoyed for centuries! Read on!
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Tomatillos in Tradition
Tomatillo means "little tomato" in Spanish. It's a beautiful plant that produces prolific fruit (technically berries) that grow quietly inside papery husks resembling green lanterns.
The fruit can be green, yellow or purple and has a very bright, citrusy flavor. They should be picked when they outgrow their husk and the husk begins to turn dry and brown.
Native to Mexico and South America, these fruits have been culinary staples for centuries. Salsa verde, the dish tomatillos are known for, was documented in 16th century by a Spanish physician, Francisco Hernàndez de Toledo, who noted its presence in the cuisine of the declining Aztec Empire. He made note of its difference from the green parsley-based sauces eaten in Europe.
Today we may recognize salsa verde in dishes like chile verde, enchiladas, chilaquiles, soups, stews, egg dishes or just as a dipping sauce for chips.
We grew purple tomatillos for the first time this past summer in our organic backyard garden. We were astounded by the beauty, tenacity and abundance of this unique plant. It certainly yielded the best salsa verde we've ever had!
We'll be growing them again and I encourage you to do so too if you enjoy this sauce. They excel in both garden beds and humble containers.
A Salute to "Culinary Anthropologist" Diana Kennedy
Diana Kennedy, an Englishwoman who became a highly-regarded authority on Mexican regional cooking, called salsa verde the "most popular Mexican table sauce."
Mrs. Kennedy, who passed away in July 2022, was awarded the Congressional Order of the Aztec Eagle by the Mexican government for her work traveling, researching, documenting and publishing the details of traditional Mexican cuisine. Her cookbooks have preserved regional Mexican recipes, cultural traditions and stories that may otherwise have been lost. It's a delight to read her adventures of tracking down, shadowing and eating with cooks-- matriarchs, patriarchs, mothers, wives, hotel owners, butchers, chefs, maids-- who were glad to teach the endlessly curious Mrs. Kennedy all about the traditional use of their local ingredients and special recipes. She always credited the original cook for each recipe she acquired.
This salsa verde recipe is adapted from her first cook book published in 1972, The Cuisines of Mexico. I inherited a first copy from my late mother-in-law, Hilary Daggett-- the most outstanding cook I have ever known. We spent many vacations and holidays preparing and enjoying deeply authentic Mexican meals thanks to Diana Kennedy's influence on my culinary-genius of a mother-in-law (who I was privileged to "apprentice" with for years-- she was my mentor, second mom and best friend-- part of My Story). Like Diana Kennedy, Hilary was an Irishwoman who could nail down authentic flavors of any culture, particularly Mexico.
I highly recommend reading Diana Kennedy's books, if you haven't already, and want to elevate your Mexican cooking. I inherited a collection from my mother-in-law the super chef, Hilary Daggett, that are full of rumpled pages splashed with chile sauces. Any one of these cookbooks will make a terrific gift for the foodie in your life:
This salsa verde-- or Salsa de Tomate Verde Cocida (cooked green tomato sauce) as Diana Kennedy calls it in her first book-- is adapted from our family's favorite recipe of hers-- Budín Azteca. This salsa is just one component of that glorious dish also known as Moctezuma Pie-- a phenomenal recipe for another day!
Not only is salsa verde muy fresco y delicioso (very fresh and delicous), it's an incredibly potent immune-booster! You may find the flavor a bit strong at first, but trust me, you'll find your way back to the fridge to put it on any and everything. It won't last long!
Tomatillos grow from summer to fall, but you can preserve them by canning this condiment like you would any salsa. Of course, you can find some decent versions of salsa verde in jars at stores, but it's not the same as this easy, homemade version!
Where to Find Tomatillos
Tomatillos can be found beginning in summer through fall in some grocery stores. I have found them at Whole Foods, Mexican markets and at local farmer's markets. You can also grow them and will be shocked at how prolific they can become! Perfect for salsa making and canning.
Pick firm tomatillos that have outgrown their husks. They are ripe when the husk begins to dry up and get brown. I picked mine early due to late planting on my part and an early frost this year. I hope to get a head-start in the future! Our plants went WILD in both a raised garden bed and a terracotta pot.
Where have you found tomatillos? Have you grown them? Want to try?
Salsa Verde: An Ancient Weapon Against Disease
Salsa verde is tasty, but it's also loaded with ingredients that strengthen your immune system. No doubt the Aztecs knew of its power against illness. Check it out:
Tomatillos are rich in immune-boosting vitamins like vitamins A, C and K and loaded with antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin which are neuroprotective, cancer-fighting and boost eye health. Most interestingly though, tomatillos have a unique anti-oxidant called withanolides which have demonstrated anti-tumor functions making tomatillos a possible functional food against cancer.
Garlic is one of nature's most powerful antibiotic, antiviral, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic therapies. Not only this, but it's supportive of good gut health, brain health and cardiovascular health. And studies have shown formidable effects on cancer cells.
Like their cousin garlic, onions are loaded with potent disease-fighting compounds. Not only this, but they are a powerful source of a flavonoid known as quercetin. Quercetin boasts numerous superpowers including being a natural anti-histamine (hello, allergies and itchies!) along with showing promise for cancer prevention.
Jalapeño or Serrano Chile:
Chiles are an excellent source of vitamin C and also contain a fiery plant compound known as capsaicin. Capsaicin demonstrates numerous health potentials for conditions related to cardiovascular health (including stroke), gut health (even ulcers... yup!), fatty liver and metabolic syndrome. It's powerful natural anti-inflammatory that promotes good circulation!
This magically fragrant herb not only brings freshness to any salsa, but has been used as powerful herbal remedy against many diseases including cancer, diabetes and liver disease. It has also shown amazing protective effects for skin against UV radiation!
A good quality sea salt is loaded with naturally occurring minerals versus iodized table salt which has been processed and contains additives like sugar and anti-caking agents. No thank you! I use both Jacobsen's Sea Salt from Oregon and Saltverk Flaky Sea Salt from Iceland-- both test ultra-low in heavy metals and microplastics. Yes, they are pricey, but SO worth it to me as we use salt on everything, especially for putting minerals back into our filtered water.
Grab these few ingredients and get ready to throw it all together!
Simple Salsa Verde (Authentic Mexican Tomatillo Salsa)
Prep: 15 minutes Cook: 5 minutes Total: 20 minutes Servings: 5-6
Adapted from Diana Kennedy's Salsa de Tomate Verde Cocida published in The Cuisines of Mexico. Phenomenal with eggs, beans, chips, meat, quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos and even soup. Truly brightens up any dish!
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~1 pound of tomatillos (about 8-10 medium), husks removed
1/4 white or red onion (medium sized), roughly chopped
1-2 jalapeño or serrano chile peppers, roughly chopped (remove seeds and veins if you want it less spicy; I leave all them in and Diana Kennedy would be appalled at suggestion of their removal)
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup of cilantro, roughly chopped
pinch of sugar
Place tomatillos in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Boil for a few minutes until slightly soft, 2-3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
While waiting for tomatillos to boil, prep all other ingredients.
Add onion, jalapeño or serrano chiles, garlic cloves, cilantro and 1/2 teaspoon salt to high-speed blender or food processor. Add tomatillos and a pinch of sugar when they are drained and ready (they don't need to cool too much).
Pulse until smooth and no chunks remain. The salsa will get chunkier as it cools due to the pectin in the tomatillos. I pour it into a glass storage container (I use this one) immediately as I don't want to keep warm salsa in a plastic blender container.
Adjust salt to taste. Many salsa verde recipes call for lime, but I don't use it as the tomatillos have a delightful acidity all their own. Diana Kennedy's recipe does not include lime.
Enjoy with eggs, beans, meat, chips, enchiladas, tacos, quesadillas and even in soups. If you are feeling adventurous you can make it with her legendary Budín Azteca (Moctezuma Pie) on page 81 of her first book, The Cuisines of Mexico.
Will store in fridge for 2-3 days (if you don't binge eat it all with chips).
Let me know in the comments if you make this salsa verde and what you think! Or tag me on social media at @nourishandcherish.ntp
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About the Author
Roxie Daggett is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) with a virtual holistic nutrition practice in Sedona, Arizona. Her passions include studying nutritional research pertaining to brain health, gut health, genetics and longevity. When she is not geeking out on nutrition she enjoys cooking, hiking, organic gardening and hanging out with her wonderful husband, and her adorable, energetic son who happens to have Down syndrome. Learn more on her About page and stay in touch by grabbing your FREE BRAIN HEALTH BREAKFAST GUIDE above or below!