Let’s Cook Something New: Tomatillo Salsa Verde

Let’s cook something new: Tomatillo Salsa Verde. I had never heard of a tomatillo until our local newspaper published a recipe for enchiladas with a green sauce made with tomatillos. l’m always ready for a challenge and not only made the recipe but attempted to grow tomatillos in my garden last summer.

The recipe in our local newspaper was for chicken enchiladas with green verde salsa. This recipe, and variations, has become one of our family favorites.The special ingredient in the sauce is the tomatillos. I’ve seen this vegetable in our neighborhood grocery store for the past several years but never knew how to cook the tomatillos. Now I had a recipe but could not find tomatillos in the local store. Luckily, Mexican markets have become more prevalent in our city and tomatillos are available year-around at these specialty stores. We welcome this source of new and interesting foods from Central America–slow to getting to Baton Rouge but becoming more predominant.

What is a tomatillo?

A tomatillo, or Mexican husk tomato, is a vegetable primarily grown in Mexico. It is common in the cuisine Mexico and Central America and is used in the preparation of a variety of green sauces. Tomatillos were cultivated in Maya and Aztecs cultures and regions for thousands of years before the Spanish came to Mexico and introduced this vegetable to other parts of the world. Tomatillos are in the nightshade family of vegetables and fruits which include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and chili peppers.

Although tomatillos look like green tomatoes, they are entirely different in flavor and cooking characteristics and in a different botanical genus. Tomatillos are both tart and sweet with a juicy pulp and lots of tiny seeds. They grow on a bushy plant which blossoms into multitudes of small white flowers. The flowers grow into tomatillos which are covered with paper sacks, like a Japanese lantern. The fruit can extrude a sticky substance. Before cooking the the paper husk is removed and the tomatillo is washed of any sticky residue.

Nutritionally, tomatillos contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A and potassium and Vitamin K. They contain antioxidant phytochemicals known as “withanolides”,  such as Ixocarpalactone-A, which has been found to have antibacterial and anti-cancer properties. The tomatillo is low in calories and sodium.

How did my garden experiment go with growing tomatillos? The plants grew quite large and sprawling (they needed to be staked like tomatoes) and I did manage to produce several of the tomatillo’s. However, I think I’ll keep to the grocery stores. On my plants, all the blossoms matured at once, giving a large batch of the vegetable. I found the fruit wasn’t as nice as the ones found in stores; many were misshaped and they were susceptible to different worms and insects. I need work on my gardening skills.

Making Tomatillo Salsa Verde

This sauce is easy to make; I’ve adapted it from our local paper. The main ingredients — tomatillos, jalapeno pepper and onion are boiled until the tomatillos are tender. Then these are drained and pureed along with fresh cilantro and spices which included salt, chili powder and garlic salt. The fresh cilantro and jalapeno pepper made this a nice spicy and flavorful sauce with some zip.

Chicken Enchiladas

I featured chicken enchiladas in a previous post. This recipe is similar. With my daughter home from college, I had a helping hand and filling and rolling the enchiladas went quickly.

Part of this cooking session was to come up with some recipes which my daughter and her college room-mate could easily make in their new apartment. So we used a food processor to finely chop cooked chicken breasts which were mixed with sour cream, cheese, canned green chilies and seasonings. 

The recipe made a large casserole; about 12 enchiladas. We heated the corn tortillas in the plastic packaging in the microwave for a few seconds to soften them (I don’t fry the corn tortillas prior to filling them. This method is much easier.)

Then we layered on sour cream, sharp cheddar cheese and the tomatilla salsa verde. We covered the casserole tightly with aluminum foil and baked at 375 degrees until hot and bubbly for about 30 minutes.

Our family really liked this casserole. The flavors of the corn tortillas, chicken filling and tomatillo salsa verde all blended together to make a wonderful Americanized version of this Mexican dish. This recipe is a keeper.

Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Salsa Verde

  • Servings: 4 servings
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients for Tomatillo Salsa Verde:

  • 6 tomatillos
  • 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, rinsed with stem and cap removed
  • 1 bunch of cilantro (rinsed and stems removed)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt

Method and Steps:

  1. Remove paper sacks from tomatillos and rinse to remove any sticky residue.
  2. Combine tomatillos, peeled and quartered onion and jalapeno pepper (with stem and cap removed) in a medium pot. Cover with water. Boil on stove for about 20 minutes until the tomatillos are tender (they may begin to turn yellow).
  3. Remove from stove and drain in colander.
  4. Add these vegetables to food processor bowl. Add cilantro leaves, salt, chili powder and garlic salt. Process until pureed. Set aside while making chicken enchiladas.

Ingredients for Chicken Enchiladas:

  • Vegetable oil
  • 2 boneless and skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp seasoned salt
  • 2 cup sour cream, divided, (with additional for garnish, if desired)
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 4 oz can mild chopped green chilies with juice
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 12 five to six inch white corn tortillas
  • 1 recipe for Tomatillo Salsa Verde
  • cilantro and chopped green onion for garnish (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Oil 9″ x 13″ casserole dish and set aside.
  2. Place 1 Tbsp oil in small skillet and heat on medium high. Add chicken breasts, season with seasoned salt. Brown chicken breasts. Turn over and brown on second side, add additional seasoned salt. Add about 1/4 cup water, tightly cover with lid, turn heat to medium and gently braise until chicken breasts are cooked and tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool until breasts can be handled.
  3. Cut chicken breasts into large chunks, add to medium food processor bowl. With pulse setting, pulse several times until chicken breasts are coarsely chopped.
  4. Transfer to medium bowl. Add 1 cup sour cream, 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, mild green chilies with juice, chili powder and ground cumin. Stir to combine.
  5. Place corn tortillas, in plastic packaging with tie removed, on microwavable plate. (Or remove tortillas from plastic wrapper and place on microwavable plate; cover loosely with wax paper.) Microwave for 30 seconds. Turn over and microwave for an additional 30 seconds, if needed, so tortillas are softened and pliable.
  6. Add about 1/4 cup of chicken filling to each tortilla, roll up and place in casserole dish with rolled edge facing down. Continue until all tortillas are rolled.
  7. Spoon and evenly spread 1 cup sour cream over the tortillas. Sprinkle 1 cup of sharp cheddar cheese over sour cream.
  8. Spoon the  Tomatillo Salsa Verde on top of the casserole and spread out with spoon.
  9. Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil. Place in oven and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes until hot and bubbly.
  10. Remove from oven. Serve with a garnish of chopped green onions and cilantro, if desired, and additional sour cream.

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