Fresh, tangy and spicy with a bit of crunch, this raw tomatillo green chili salsa (salsa verde) is perfect for when you want a salsa with bright fresh flavor to top anything you don’t want getting soggy - like nachos, tacos or tostadas. Store bought tomatillo salsas can have a slimy texture and are sometimes overly sweet or salty. Luckily, you can make your own at home with 7 ingredients and no cooking - it couldn’t be easier!
What is Salsa Verde?
Salsa verde is a Mexican condiment or sauce that gets its signature green color from its main ingredient - tomatillos. You can generally find tomatillo salsas of two types: cooked - either boiled or roasted - or raw. Raw tomatillo salsas like this one are faster to make and have more of a refreshing bright flavor and a crunch or bite to their texture that make them ideal for using as a topping or dip for tortilla chips.
There is a common misconception that green salsa is made with green tomatoes. While green tomatoes, with their firm texture and slight acidity, are more similar to tomatillos than, say, a ripe red tomato, the two fruits are not interchangeable. Tomatillos are actually a kind of ground cherry. They are usually much smaller than a slicer tomato and they grow inside of papery husks. They remain firm when ripe and have a tangy acidic flavor.
You may be wondering where to find tomatillos. If you have access to a large grocery store with an international section, a farmer’s market or small grocer where Mexican or South American ingredients are sold, you may be able to find tomatillos fresh in the produce section. Especially when they are in season in the late summer or early fall.
They are also often sold canned, which is a good option if you need to order them online. Canned tomatillos are fine to use, but your salsa won’t have the same firm texture it will if you use fresh. Since fresh tomatillos are impossible for me to find, I grow my own in my vegetable garden. They’re easy to grow and preserve so, if you’re a gardener and enjoy Mexican food, they’re worth adding to your garden.
Traditionally, salsa verdes use either Serrano peppers or jalapeños, but you can use any hot pepper you like. I like to use my home grown serranos for this, they tend to be hotter than jalapeños. Of course, hot peppers are always a bit of a wild card, so do a little taste test of the ones you plan to use first if you are worried about the heat level. If you can’t find serranos, or if you want a milder salsa, jalapeños are a great substitute. For the mildest heat, remove the seeds and membranes of the peppers and discard before adding the pepper to the salsa.
Serrano peppers are similar in flavor to jalapeños, but are smaller and narrower in shape and tend to be 2-4 times hotter.
It’s always a good idea to wear gloves when working with really hot peppers, or at least wash your hands after handling them - and before touching your face.
This is a very simple recipe and cilantro is key to the flavor of the finished salsa. But cilantro can be divisive, so if you, or people you’re serving, don’t like cilantro - simply leave it out of the recipe all together. You’ll often see parsley cited as a possible cilantro substitute for those who find cilantro tastes like soap, but it’s really not the same and I find the flavor of parsley clashes with the other elements of a green salsa.
Make Your Salsa Just the Way you Like It.
This is probably the easiest recipe on this site - basically all you are doing is removing the husks and sticky residue from the tomatillos, throwing them into a blender and mixing it together. But the benefit of making your own salsa is that you can customize exactly how you like it. The best way to do that is to add your ingredients incrementally, then carefully taste and adjust.
The amount of liquid in your finished salsa will depend on the tomatillos you’ve used, whether they were fresh or canned, and even the variety if you’re using homegrown. If you find your salsa too dry, simply add in a tablespoon or two of water to the blender and pulse through before adding the garlic and onion. If you find your salsa is too watery, you can fix that as well. Transfer the salsa to a sieve placed over a bowl, allow the liquid to drain out into the bowl, then transfer the salsa to your serving dish. Add back in as much of the reserved liquid as you want to get the salsa texture you like. Taste, and adjust the seasoning before discarding the remaining liquid.
Salsa is meant to be spicy, but you can tailor the spice level of your salsa by choosing the right chilies (jalapeños for mild salsa, serranos for hot), removing the seeds and membranes of the chiles before adding, or simply using more or fewer chilis than the recipe calls for. Remember, you can always add in more heat, but once you have added too much, there isn’t much you can do to fix it. So start by putting in half the chilis you think you want to use, taste, and add in the rest if you want more heat.
Sweet and Sour
Raw tomatillos can be acidic, you want your finished salsa to be tangy, but not mouth-puckeringly sour. If your finished salsa is too sour, add more sugar, ¼ teaspoon at a time until the flavor is more balanced.
If your salsa tastes a little bland, it may need more salt to bring out the flavors. Try adding more salt, a ¼ teaspoon at a time. Adding salt also helps to mellow out acidity and sometimes even take the edge off heat, so try adding a bit more, along with the sugar, if your tomatillos are sour or if the salsa is a bit too spicy.
What to do with Tomatillo Salsa
What you do with a green chili salsa depends on what kind you’ve made - this chunkier raw salsa is good for things where you want a bit of texture without overwhelming the dish with liquid. (As opposed to, say, a roasted pureed salsa that’s better as a base for sauces, like for an enchiladas verdes). Try this salsa as a topping for:
Tomatillo Green Chili Salsa Recipe
Makes about: 2 ½ - 3 cups
- 1.5 pounds tomatillos
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 3 serrano chilies, roughly chopped (can substitute jalapeños)
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
- ¼ cup finely minced white onion (about ½ small onion)
- ¼ cup finely minced cilantro (optional)
- Peel the husks away from the tomatillos. Rinse away the sticky residue that remains on the fruit. Roughly chop.
- Add the chopped tomatillos to a blender with the garlic, chiles, salt and sugar. Pulse until finely chopped - but not pureed. If you’re worried about the heat level, start with ½ the chiles, taste, and add more if desired.
- Taste and adjust for flavor and texture: add more sugar if too acidic, and a tablespoon or two of water if too dry.
- Transfer the salsa to a serving bowl and stir in the onion and cilantro until mixed through. Serve at room temperature. Store any leftover salsa in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 days, or freeze for up to 4 months.