Roasted Salsa Verde

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Can you purchase fresh, locally-grown produce in winter? We can’t, so this year we put much of our garden on “summer break,” rejuvenating the soil with cover crops so it could be ready for August and September plantings of winter vegetables. Corn, beans, and tomatoes are in abundance at our local Farmers Market right now, and I’m happy to support my local farmers by buying my produce from them, rather than growing everything, every season, ourselves.

But there are still some specialty crops that our local farmers don’t provide, and so a few of our garden beds are devoted to those crops: special peppers like Padron, Pasilla Bajio, and Poblanos; Fengyuan Purple and Rosita eggplants; and TOMATILLOS.

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Tomatillos are ridiculously easy to grow. They are a summer “weed” in the garden, even sprouting in the compacted soil of my garden’s walkways. Pests? Flea beetles will plague the lower leaves, but my tomatillos have always grown so fast that they outrun any serious damage. Disease? I’ve yet to see any, except for a plant that I culled this year because it carried a seed-borne virus (causing shrunken and curled leaves and distorted flowers).

Our tomatillo beds are at the foot of our hillside garden. It’s the former site of our two over-wintered lettuce beds, which I had undersown with crimson clover, fava beans, and winter rye as a cover crop that would take off when the lettuce was finished. Before planting with tomatillo transplants that I started from seed in early April, the cover crop was mowed down and left on the soil surface. Rather than tilling, I used a broadfork to aerate the soil, allowing me to plant my tomatillo transplants deeply (at least 1/3rd of each transplant was sunk into the ground).

I prefer to grow tomatillos on black plastic, with soaker hose beneath to control moisture. The reflected heat from the black plastic gives these heat-loving plants a boost, and it also means less weeding for me. Because ripe tomatillos frequently fall from the plant, the black plastic also makes finding fruits easier and minimizes loss to rot.

Newbies to tomatillo growing often have questions about the harvest. Tomatillos will have the tangiest flavor when the fruit has filled out the husk and is a bright green. Some sources will tell you to harvest when the tomatillos split their protective husk, but I’ve found that about 25% of fully ripe tomatillos will have husks intact; when I first started growing tomatillos, I lost several fruits to rot because I was waiting for the husks to split. But if you prefer a more mellow and sweet flavor, let your tomatillos hang on a little longer, picking them when they change to a pale yellow or purple color (depending on the variety).

Purple tomatillos, harvested in mid-October. Tomatillos are slightly less frost sensitive than their close-cousins, tomatoes.

Purple tomatillos, harvested in mid-October. Tomatillos are slightly less frost sensitive than their close-cousins, tomatoes.

This tomatillo is ready for picking. Standard Mexican tomatillos rarely reach this size, but this is a special giant variety from Adaptive Seeds called "Plaza Latina."

This tomatillo is ready for picking. Standard Mexican tomatillos rarely reach this size, but this is a special giant variety from Adaptive Seeds called “Plaza Latina.”

Salsa Verde

My favorite use for our tomatillos is in salsa verde, which is easily preserved using the boiling-water method of canning. My recipe is adapted from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving’s “Tomatillo Salsa.” Even though I haven’t added any sugar to this recipe, it is a little sweeter simply because I use an equal mix of ripe and overly-ripe tomatillos. The real difference, however, is that I char the tomatillos and peppers on the grill prior to saucing them — this step adds a complex, smoky flavor to the salsa that makes us want to keep dipping again, and again, and again…

A mix of ripe and overly-ripe tomatoes destined for Salsa Verde.

A mix of ripe and overly-ripe tomatoes destined for Salsa Verde.

 

Salsa Verde Recipe (Makes ~2 pints)

  • 2 pounds of husked and cored tomatillos (I prefer an equal mix of ripe and overly-ripe tomatillos)
  • 7 jalapeño (or other green chili) peppers, sliced lengthwise and seeded (I leave seeds in 2 peppers for added heat)
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (read your label to make sure it is “real” and not “apple cider-flavored” vinegar)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice

 

  1. Line an outdoor grill with aluminum foil. Grill the husked and cored tomatillos over medium-high heat, turning frequently with tongs until each tomatillo is charred and somewhat softened. Repeat with the jalapeños and quartered onion. Transfer the tomatillos, jalapenos, and onion (and any juice on the foil) to a large bowl.
  2. Process tomatillos, jalapeños, and onion in a food processor, pulsing until tomatillos are smooth, and the jalapeños and onion have been chopped well. Transfer all to a heavy-bottomed sauce pot.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the sauce pot and mix well. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle the salsa into hot jars, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace. Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

 

 

9 Comments

  1. Andrea @ Little Big Harvest

    July 12, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    I can’t wait to try this! I love salsa verde. Also, I didn’t know tomatillos grew so easily; I may have to try them.

  2. Texan

    July 12, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    My goodness that is a lot of tomatillo plants! :O). I can salsa verde every year, yummy! I have not ever roasted them however! I can see where this would really add some lovely flavor to the salsa! I will be trying your recipe next year! My tomatillos are done here as is most of my summer garden.

    • Ma Hubbard

      July 14, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      Wow! Most of our summer crops are just coming on here! Enjoy!

  3. Yanic A.

    July 13, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    My goodness… this post just blew my mind because we’ve been trying to grow tomatillos for 3 years now with zero success. Can I ask what zone you are in and how you go about them?

    • Ma Hubbard

      July 14, 2014 at 3:57 pm

      What happens when you’ve tried to grow them? I’m in zone 6b in the eastern Kentucky mountains. I start our seeds in a basic seed starting mixture about 5 weeks before setting them out in the garden. I’ve also direct-sown them in the garden before, and they’ve taken off great as well.

      • Yanic A.

        July 14, 2014 at 8:52 pm

        We are 4B and they sprout indoors, then stunt… we’ve rarely even gotten to transplant them. I’m thinking the zone just isn’t right. 🙁 Too bad… LOVE ME some salsa verde and yours looks amazing!

        • Ma Hubbard

          July 15, 2014 at 10:09 am

          Your zone explains a lot! One last hope might be transplanting them to a bed that is covered with a clear plastic low tunnel… I know of several growers here in Kentucky that have done this with tomatoes, and it puts them a month ahead of other growers in having tomatoes ready for market! Just a thought if you’re really determined to get tomatillos!

          • Yanic A.

            July 15, 2014 at 10:49 am

            I would love too because I can’t get them anywhere here, so growing them is the only way to make salsa verde. We have strict restrictions in our household with all allium family foods. So I can’t buy commercial salsas. Thank you for the tip… I’ll try that next year! We are building a green house this fall just for that purpose. 🙂

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