A tangy, summery sauce that’s both comforting and refreshing. Versatile enough to use over meats or in vegetarian dishes, this sauce works wonders over steak, chicken and pork; in tacos, salads or rice bowls; as a dipping sauce and more.
I like to play this game at the grocery store. I pick one item that I’ve never cooked with or eaten before, buy it, and learn how to do something tasty with it. Several years ago I put some tomatillos in my cart, and they’ve been regular LLC cart club members ever since.
Tomatillos feature in some of my favorite recipes ever. The first dish I created with them was my own take on chicken enchiladas. You can find that recipe for chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce here, as it eventually turned into the first recipe I ever posted to my original blog.
Yes, tomatillos started it all 😉
I’m betting at least a few of you are asking if this is the same thing as a green tomato. No, no, no and nooooo.
Tomatillos are much more flavorful, more substantial and is fully ripe. Green tomatoes are unripe red ones. That’s why they taste so much more “green” than ripe tomatoes. They haven’t had the time and sun exposure to develop the sugars and acids their vine-ripened counterparts are known for.
So please don’t replace tomatillos with green tomatoes in a recipe (or vice versa).
Tomatillos are used heavily in Mexican cuisine, and they’re widely used and grown throughout South America as well.
You can use them cooked or as a raw ingredient, though there’s a little something special to them when they’re cooked along with garlic and some spice. They’re perfect for sauces either way, because they have a high pectin content.
Pectin is what gives jelly its jiggle. It kindly offers tomatillos a rich texture that accentuates their sour flavor. They’re also fairly low in sugar, so while you can enhance their sweetness when you cook them, they don’t lose their acidic punch.
Cook them with savory ingredients and you can take things up several notches.
Note: I did not use all the onions pictured for this recipe—some were for another application.
Tomatillos aren’t necessarily hard to find in the U.S. especially in the South—the growing season is long, and nearly year-round in some places. Still, they’re kind of a specialty item, and it can be hard to find many good-looking, sizable ones at the same time. That’s why when you find a good bunch of them, you definitely seize the opportunity to make them into something delicious.
Another thing that’s great about tomatillos? They’re super easy to work with. This sauce proves it—when it comes down to it, all you really have to do is roast them with some onions, then blend them up with the rest of the ingredients.
I use a slightly older version of this Ninja Master Prep Food Processor set for things like this. It was a wedding gift in 2014 and it’s still going strong! I do a LOT of blending, and I highly recommend it.
This sauce has a mouthfeel similar to gravy, and it’s just as comforting. On the other hand, it tastes fresh and light, not heavy and sleepy. It’s familiar enough to soothe, but also refreshing so that you won’t feel bogged down after dinner.
If there is a healthy, summery comfort food, this is how it begins.
Another reason I love this sauce is that you can use it for SO many things. I developed the recipe when I was doing personal catering for clients on a paleo diet (loose paleo—yes, I know tomatillos are nightshades and discussed that with them :)). I wanted to make sure they weren’t getting bored, so I served it over flat iron steak. Let me tell you, it did NOT disappoint. I was a little nervous that it would be drowned out against the strong flavor and texture of the steak, but it held its own with no problem.
Since then, I’ve used this sauce over steaks, chicken, pork and sweet potato hash; in tacos and even in salads and rice bowls. It’s been to my table more times than I can remember, and it hasn’t let me down yet.
Here it is with its dream date, steak.
Now, for any tomatillo newbies, here’s what you need to know to find, buy, clean and store tomatillos.
Where to buy tomatillos
I have been able to find them at most large grocery stores, and some farmers markets. If you live in an isolated area—West Virginia born & raised right here, everything is on or between mountains—it might be a little more difficult.
First, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you have trouble finding them. I have found these papery beauties in multiple places in different stores, and even the people who sell them don’t always know what they’re for (or even what they are, in some cases).
I’ve found them with the tomatoes, with the garlic and shallots, randomly placed among the rest of the produce, and in setups just for hispanic foods.
Choosing the best of the bunch
First, make sure you look under the husks before you take your tomatillos home. Typically they’re pretty easy to pull back, and if they’re too tight, you can just rip them back a little.
Tomatillos should be bright green and plump. The size can range from smaller than a ping-pong ball to almost the size of a billiard ball—the bigger ones will be a little more developed, but it doesn’t make much of a difference. They should feel fairly firm to the touch. Not hard like an apple, but not squishy like a tomato.
They shouldn’t have a lot of brown spots or wrinkles, and they definitely shouldn’t have mold or punctures. If a tomatillo has a few imperfections but they don’t look deep or affect the firmness, you can probably just cut the them off and no one will know the difference.
How to clean tomatillos
All you have to do to husk a tomatillo is peel back the papery shells and pop them off.
Once the husks are off, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the sticky film on the tomatillos’ skin, almost like pine sap. That’s perfectly normal, and it’s actually pretty easy to remove.
Just put them in some cold water and rub them with your hands. If they’re really sticky, add a little white vinegar to help break it down. You have to wash produce anyway, so this step hardly takes any time. If they still feel a bit tacky after washing, don’t worry about it, that’s just how they are.
How to store tomatillos
Unlike their tomato relatives, you can store tomatillos in the refrigerator. I usually keep them on the counter and just use them quickly. You can actually clean and cut them ahead and they’ll keep in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days. Just make sure they’re dry before packing so they don’t get moldy.
By the way…
You may have guessed how to pronounce tomatillo already, but there’s a good chance this saved at least a few people from frantically googling it (pretending to be texting someone—I know the drill) shortly before they had to say it out loud.
No judgement here.
I mean, how could you even bother to judge anyone with this sauce proving the world is full of love and beauty?
As always, I want to hear from you! If you make this recipe, make sure you come back and let me know how it was, or you can post a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen & tag me!
So what would you do with this tomatillo sauce? Let me know in the comments or on social media!
Now, let’s get saucy.