If you’re a gardener, you likely end your season with a rack of green tomatoes and a quest to find a way to use them. Sorry, but this is not that recipe. I gave up on green tomato salsas several years ago—the vinegar required to make the salsa shelf stable when water-bath canning has always seemed overpowering.
Instead, I fell for the lovely green lanterns that grow into tomatillos, the traditional base for salsa verde. These little husked fruits clock in at pH 3.83, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, well below the safe level for water-bath canning. The added acid covers the secondary low-acid vegetables and boosts the flavor. Even so, grilling and draining vegetables hasn’t been lab tested by National Center for Home Food Preservation, so I heavily researched and meticulously calculated the acidity for safe canning; to double-check my calculations, I test the recipes with a ThermoWorks high-accuracy pH meter. More details are in the Tips & Tricks for the recipe.
Tomatillos are as easy to grow as tomatoes; just be sure to buy two plants so that they cross-pollinate. Not surprisingly, I prefer them grilled like tomatoes—and have found yet another beverage use for their juice.
Grilled Tomatillo Salsa
3/4 pound onion (9 ounces, or about 1 cup, when grilled and chopped)
2 pounds bell and/or Gypsy peppers (15 ounces, or about 2 cups when grilled and chopped)
1 head garlic (about 6 tablespoons when grilled and minced)
3–4 serrano peppers (about 2 tablespoons when seeded and minced)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
2-3/4 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons ground cumin
10 tablespoons bottled lime juice (5% acidity)
Grill the tomatillos, onions, sweet peppers, and garlic. Drain the tomatillos, setting the juice aside (see below); for the given proportions of this salsa, the grilled tomatillos need to weigh 4-3/4 pounds after draining. If you won’t be making your salsa immediately, store the tomatillo solids in the freezer. Peel the garlic, and then freeze it, the onions, and the sweet peppers on a tray for a couple of hours; chop or mince the vegetables; and then seal them in a zip-close freezer bag and freeze.
When you are ready to process, let any frozen ingredients defrost. Add all ingredients to a large stockpot. Run an immersion blender through the salsa until it achieves the desired consistency. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer on low for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors, stirring often to avoid burning.
Tips & Tricks
- If you don’t have enough tomatillos for a full batch of pints, consider making a half batch but processing it for the same time in 1/2-pint jars. Most people don’t eat salsa verde in the same proportions as a tomato-based salsa, so you may find the smaller jars more useful.
- I tend to grill and freeze both tomatoes and tomatillos as they come ripe. One of the flavor compounds of tomatoes is destroyed by fridge temps, but tomatillos are a bit more forgiving about being stored in the kitchen. In Tart and Sweet, one of my inspirations for this recipe, Jessie Knadler and Kelly Geary note that tomatillos do well in the refrigerator for 2 weeks with their husks on and up to 3 months with the husks removed.
- I started growing Gypsy peppers a few years ago. They’re sweet with just a hint of heat and shaped more like a poblano than a bell pepper. I use them for fresh salsa because they hold their shape well, but they’re also a good choice here because the different pepper varieties add to the depth of flavor in the salsa.
- The same amount of peppers can be easily substituted into this salsa: Anaheims, pasillas, and poblanos are all good options. For the heat of the serranos, you can slide down the scale to jalapenos or up the scale to habaneros as you wish. I recommend starting midrange and adjusting after you’ve tasted your first batch—salsa flavors blend as they sit, but I’ve found they can taste hotter than they did initially after a few months in the jar.
- I like to deseed my hot peppers with a grapefruit spoon. Simply halve each chili lengthwise and run the spoon’s edge from the tip to the stem to scrape off the seeds and ribs. Then cut off the stem end and mince. If you do feel the heat and soap doesn’t cut it, use diluted bleach to scrub your hands clean.
- Fresh cilantro is best in this recipe, but in a pinch you can use dried; just cut the proportion by one-third (in this case, 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons).
- Tomatillos (pH 3.83) are naturally more acidic than tomatoes (pH 4.20–4.90) and more on par with high-acid fruit like blackberries and cherries. Still, the addition of peppers, onions, and other low-acid ingredients means extra acid is needed to ensure food safety. With the addition of the draining technique, I adjusted beyond the amounts given in NCHFP recipes to assuage any doubts about food safety. For good measure, I test my batches with a ThermoWorks high-accuracy pH meter.
Twice as Tasty
My new recipe process often starts like this: “Gospodi! I’ve picked pounds of [any vegetable]. I’d better find a recipe.” Soon I’m on the floor surrounded by every cookbook I own and 8 browser tabs open on my laptop, seeking inspiration for the best use of my bounty.
Grilled tomatillo juice was a “what do I do with it” food. For a few years I made fresh tomatillo salsa; with less juice than tomatoes, the salsa stayed thick with minimal cooking time. But once I perfected Grilled Tomato Chipotle Salsa, tomatillos were clearly next on the list. It seemed a shame not to find another cocktail for the grilled juice.
The Internet provided an intriguing suggestion: margaritas. Tomatillo juice is a surprisingly delicious substitute for the fluorescent sweet-and-sour mix common in America. We’ve spent the last couple of years drinking margs with both fresh and grilled juice—as my sister would say, taking one for the team—to perfect this recipe.
Grilled Tomatillo Margaritas
1/2 ounce agave nectar
salt for the glass rim
1/2 ounce triple sec
1/2 ounce lime juice
2 ounces water
2 ounces tequila
fresh lime slice
Combine the tomatillo juice and agave in a small pan; heat over medium-low heat just until the agave becomes a liquid you can stir into the juice. Let cool to room temperature. Salt the rim of your glass and add a couple of ice cubes. Pour the sweetened juice and remaining ingredients into a cocktail shaker; add cracked ice and shake until the exterior becomes frosty. Strain into your glass, and garnish with fresh lime.
Tips & Tricks
- After canning a round of Grilled Tomatillo Salsa, you will have enough juice for a pitcher of margaritas. If you’re feeling generous, simply multiply this recipe by the number of 2-ounce pours of juice that you drain from the grilled tomatillos. Once you’ve sweetened it with the agave, create your own sweet-and-sour mix by combining it with the triple sec and lime juice in a sealable container, and then pour out 3 to 3-1/2 ounces of the mix for every drink you serve.
- It’s not necessary to be generous. Tomatillo juice freezes easily for later use. Simply pour the drained juice straight into an ice cube tray. The 1-ounce portions created by a standard tray are easy to pop out, defrost, and use.
- I prefer agave in this beverage; it provides just the right balance of sweetness with a neutral flavor. Sugar or honey can be substituted, but you’ll likely need to adjust the proportions so that the mix isn’t overly sweet.
- If you’re too rushed to bother with boiling and cooling the syrup, consider this before you just start madly stirring in agave: Cool juice means that agave syrup will likely clump up or at least coat the bottom of your glass, throwing off the balance as you drink. Heating solves the separation issue and is well worth the result.
- Cointreau is the preferred triple sec of connoisseurs, because it’s guaranteed to give you a boozy 40% alcohol content in every jigger. Cheaper brands work almost equally well for your orange flavor but can come in a wide alcohol percentage range, so the choice is yours. But if you’re going to make your own cocktail mix, why not stir in Homemade Orange Liqueur? For a tequila choice, go with a 100% agave bottle, but the brand is a matter of your taste and budget.
- We tried various mixer proportions without adding water and discovered the tomatillo juice really does need to be watered down. When grilled, the juice becomes thick and syrupy, with an intense flavor that can overpower everything else in the glass. I suggest adding the water when you fix the drink, rather than pouring it into the preproportioned mix, so that you can adjust to taste.