roasted tomatillo salsa (or is it more like jam?)

Tomatillo salsa (like a gooey jam!), in little jars.I VOICED A LONGING for tomatillos at seed-catalog shopping time last winter, having skipped growing them for years, and now…well, let’s just say I am lonesome no more. What to do with the many fruits, whose husks have filled out and then some, signaling ripeness-plus of the fruit inside? Seems that it depends who you ask—even if you specifically state it’s salsa that you have in mind.

Everyone usually agrees that tomatillos, garlic, onion, peppers and cilantro are the basic ingredients involved, but do you simmer your tomatillo salsa on the stovetop, or simply pulse-then-blend the raw ingredients together? Perhaps it’s best to roast it in the oven till the whole thing transforms from a thin-into-thickening slurry, and finally to something more like a loose and glistening jam?

On the word of my friend You Grow Girl, Gayla Trail, I went with the roasting-pan method.

Since I planned to freeze (rather than can) about a dozen small jars, I didn’t have to worry about a perfect balance of acidity, or what other ingredients I added. I simply went by eye, and taste. In my first batch, I was timid about the hot peppers; in my second, I went a little bolder. Both are tasty.

I imagined the sweetness that happens when you roast vegetables—set against the kick of the peppers and garlic.

a colander full of tomatillos.I used oil in the roasting pan, and lots of fresh cilantro. And I incorporated some of the sweeter, technically “over-ripe” tomatillos that had colored up to yellowish-green and purple, mixing them with tarter bright-green ones that are the familiar stuff of salsa verde.  (When I say “over-ripe,” I want to be clear: They are not mushy or in some way gone bad, but still firm and in fact delicious, with an odd, complex, fruity sweetness I don’t recognize from any other fruit or vegetable. I enjoyed quite a few of them whole and raw, as I might a berry or a cherry tomato. If you plan to make a more typical salsa verde, as in “green,” go with just-ripe fruit.)

I think I ended up with what I would label tomatillo jam—which is proving delicious on quesadillas and other grilled cheese, or on tamales (a favorite food here in my house), or over rice and beans. The thick, sweet-yet-punchy condiment–sort of pepper jelly meets chutney–would be good on chicken or fish as well.

tomatillo jam ingredients in roasting pan.

how to make the jam-like tomatillo concoction:

Note: All the recipes I found talk about starting with a pittance of tomatillos—clearly not geared to gardeners with a glut on their hands. So I improvised the amounts, but mostly featured the tomatillo in my blend. (Yours could be much heavier on the onion, for instance.) To a colander full of fruits I added a large chopped onion, 6 cloves of garlic, and two small hot peppers plus two medium-sized milder peppers (also all chopped). I used a half-bunch of cilantro leaves, chopped.

ingredients:

  • Tomatillos
  • A mix of sweet and hot peppers, seeded and chopped
  • Yellow or white onion, chopped
  • Garlic, chopped
  • Fresh cilantro leaves, chopped coarsely

steps:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Remove the husks and small stems of the tomatillos, and rinse fruit (which will feel naturally sticky; no worry).

Chop your peppers (seeded first), and onions and garlic.

Put it all in a roasting pan; toss with a little olive oil.

Roast it uncovered until it bubbles and starts to soften; stir.

Stir again after about 10 minutes. And again—until desired thickness is achieved. Cool and put in small jars to freeze, or use within the week (refrigerating meantime).

Tomatillo ripening on the vine

other ways to make tomatillo salsas, and more

Chef Rick Bayless would scold me for not roasting the ingredients so they blackened, like this, putting it all under the broiler 4 inches from the heat source, then turning to blacken the other side.

Extra tomatillos? Just as you might freeze whole tomatoes for later use, simply husk them and put in a freezer bag.

Or, add them to guacamole, says “The New York Times” (fewer calories than avocado-only), or make another version of salsa verde that incorporates avocado, like “Saveur” suggests in their Salsa Verde Con Acquacate.

Or do the easiest thing of all, and the most vitamin-packed, I suppose: no-cook blender salsa verde (again, from Rick Bayless).  You could freeze jars of that easily. Likewise with this similar but cooked version, from Food 52.

To learn about growing tomatillos, revisit my radio show and story with Gayla Trail from earlier in the year, on my blog or hers.

18 comments
September 28, 2013

comments

  1. says

    Once you have tomatillos, you can always have tomatillos!

    The blue Ball Book of Canning has a good salsa verde recipe that is hot water bath canning.

    I have been chopping up a half dozen with some red and green peppers, and onion, some parsley, black pepper, water and and a chicken bouillon cube simmering for a while and stuffing a tortilla (with chopped leaf lettuce and some shredded cheese)..

  2. Carolyn says

    I was inspired by your program earlier this year, and planted 10 tomatillo plants. From those I got a total of 10 tomatillos. We have a bad problem with stink bugs and leaf footed bugs that destroyed the fruit and the plants, so I pulled them out several weeks ago. They also got most of my tomatoes and butternut squash. I’ll pin your recipe and try again next year, perhaps with row covers if I can afford them.

  3. says

    Missing the Berkshire garden and hoping my neighbors harvested the last of the chile peppers and heirloom tomatoes —”jubilee” was prolific this year. From the road It’s difficult to start a blog! Probably should have started before our travels began but I was too busy putting the garden to bed for the season! I have even more respect for what you do now Margaret!

  4. Dianne says

    We planted 6 tomatillo plants this year–3 varieties. Having never grown tomatillos before, we didn’t know what to expect. The tomatillos were prolific, but most of them were infested with some kind of worm, I presume the larvae from something that liked the plant, but we never were able to figure out what it was. We were really disappointed because there were so many tomatillos. Maybe we will plant fewer next year and spray with Bt.

  5. Skye says

    I planted 2 purple heirloom plants this year and have had an abundance of fruit off of them. I am totally unfamiliar with tomatillos, still don’t quite understand the significance of them, but I was told when planting them “they enjoy being with a friend”, so always plant in pairs. Last year I planted a single and got NO fruit off of it. Maybe they are correct in this idea of planting. I have read that tomatillos are supposed to be cooked before using, not flavorful raw. I have only added them to my salsa recipe, but am curious about how others use them, and new recipes. Thanks for sharing your idea.

    • says

      Hi, Skye. I can tell you they are very flavorful raw if allowed to go a little extra ripe, not hard and green. And yes, they need two plants to cross-pollinate and set good fruit.

      Hi, Carolyn. Ouch! Sounds like a challenging year. A very thorough cleanup this fall, huh?

  6. Terry says

    I love fresh Salsa Verde- just pulsed in a blender. But when I followed a recipe to can them, I was disappointed by the vinegary-pickled taste it produced. I like your idea of roasting everything together. Roasting seems to bring out the best in all veggies, doesn’t it?
    I will also follow your lead and freeze them instead of canning them. I think I’ll put it into freezer bags tho- that way it will take up less room and I can stack them up.
    I’m going to the garden with my gathering basket right now!
    By the way- I love my assortment of gathering baskets I have accumulated over the years. Several of my gardening friends have baskets and containers that have acquired almost mystical status. Only this one for herbs, only that one for tomatoes… Have you ever thought of doing an article on the wide variety of containers that people use to gather things in their garden? Could be interesting.
    Thanks for the ideas!

  7. says

    This is a very timely post! I grew tomatillos for the first time this year and had no clue what to expect. I put in four plants and they were HUGE. I wasnt prepared for them to engulf the cucumbers! Perhaps I should have read something first :-/ I am loaded with fruit and I have been experimenting with recipes. Like you, I settled on freezing. I sliced them in half and placed them face down on the sheet pan with halved jalapenos to get a good char before hitting the blender with garlic, cilantro, red onion and lime.

  8. Margit Van Schaick says

    Margaret, thank you so much for this informative post on various ideas about preserving and enjoying eating tomatillos. They seem to be a plant that generally is generous with an abundant crop. Kind of like kale and chard. Thrifty and giving plants, very useful for those of us who depend on our gardens for healthy, nutritious food. Since as a vegetarian you are an especially knowledgeable gardener concerning that very issue: what crops are mainstays in your garden for food security? I would very much appreciate your thoughts and recommendations on that subject. I know that there’s lots of information throughout your essays about specific cultivars, like Juliet tomatoes and the spigarelli(?) broccoli, perhaps you could do a piece in which you collected the “All Stars” to teach us what plants are the stalwarts for survival in what, to many of us, are difficult economic times. Again, I wish to thank you for your work, for I have learned a great deal from your writings.

  9. Brenda says

    I a freezing my tomatillo harvest in freezer bags to be used this winter in one of our favorite recipes. Most people are used to eating Posole in red sauce, but I prefer the green from using tomatillos.

    Pozole Verde

    One large pork roast
    2 cans (16 oz) chicken broth
    One large onion
    Two large cans tomatillos or that same amount
    Chilis – chopped, adjust to taste
    1/2 t Garlic or to taste
    2 t Cumin
    2 t Oregano
    Two large cans hominy

    Cook one large pork roast in chicken broth in crock pot. During cooking add one large onion, cubed. After pork is cooked, break into small chunks. Add drained tomatillos that you have broken up. At this point you will add any kind of chopped chilis to the crock pot to make it as spicy as you like. I prefer to use serranos, but most people use jalapenos. I think pasilas are traditional. Heat through. Add garlic, cumin and oregano. Cook hominy on stovetop until tender, then drain and add to crockpot. This is important. It probably will not cook all the way through if you don’t cook before adding to the crockpot. Cook until all flavors are well combined. Adjust seasonings with cumin and oregano until you get it where you like it. Serve with sides such as tortillas spread with beans and sour cream or garnishes such as radishes sliced thin, chopped cilantro, or thinly sliced cabbage.

  10. Terry says

    I am in agreement with ‘Margit Van Schaick’. I would love to see an article by you where you name your ‘all-star’ plant choices. I have my own list of veggie plants I use every year in the garden. I am always on the lookout for ‘different’ things to try, but MY all-star list is dependable, and grows well, I know I can count on these varieties to perform in my particular garden.
    It would be nice to see your list.

  11. Ginny says

    I’ve grown tomatillos for years. Plant them once and you’ll likely have them for life in your garden. Don’t worry, they are easy to weed out or in my case I let them pop up and I select the ones I want and pull the rest. The first year I made salsa and froze it but I did not like the texture of the frozen tomatillos. So I made salsa using the Ball book. Ok but rather runny. Then my daughter suggested I cook down the salsa then can it. Much better! I made the salsa then take the liquid part and reduce it while heating the bulk of the salsa. Combine and can. My latest use of tomatillos is to use them in a fruit crisp. Wash and chop. Add other fruit if you want (hand full of berries or a lone peach). Add sugar and instant tapioca (like making a filling for a fruit pie) and some spice, cinnamon is a safe choice. Mix everything and put into a baking pan. Top with rolled oats and dot top with pats of butter (optional is to add nuts on top- I add them later in the baking). Bake. I used straight tomatillo in the crisp and had most people think it was an apple crisp but couldn’t figure out what the seeds were in the crisp. This is fast to make. I mix every thing in the baking pan. No bowls to clean up! I do want to try making your roasted tomatillo salsa.

  12. L Smitty says

    I made the roasted tomatillo salsa using your recipe and it was great! Now I am addicted. Thanks Margaret!

  13. Judi Longstreet says

    Just did the recipe today. Really easy. I used too many hot peppers tho’. Slightly out of control but still nice burn. I’m looking forward to using it.

  14. peppergrass says

    I am making this recipe right now, and/but the fruit have given off so much moisture they’re more steaming in the oven than roasting. I’ve had them in for over an hour, and they’re soft now but positively swimming in liquid. Not sure if this is right or not? I’ve taken the tray out to cool, and may strain it and run it through my food processor before freezing. Did I do something wrong?

    • says

      Nope, you got it right, Peppergrass, assuming you had a layer of tolatillos on the surface of the plan (not two deep or anything). The moisture will then evaporate and the jam-like stuff will get all thick and sticky.

  15. Sally Johnson says

    I never knew what these pretty things were. Bought some last week at a local farm. The salsa is delicious, but would add more hot peppers next time. Can’t wait to get more this week so I have some left to freeze.

  16. ljfq says

    My first year for tomatillos! I read somewhere that the big ones are bitter so I wondered if I should have harvested them smaller. Thus I am interested to see that you let some of yours slightly “over-ripen”. I am eager to try some recipes. Unseasonably cool weather means we can comfortably try your roasting method.

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