Kid-Friendly Tomatillo Salsa (salsa verde)

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My tomatillos are ripening, and it’s almost time to make some garden-fresh tomatillo salsa!! Salsa made from tomatillos is usually called salsa verde, or green salsa, and is a staple of Mexican cooking.

Traditional Salsa Verde made with roasted tomatillos (not the kid-friendly version described below!), created with a blender.
Traditional Salsa Verde made with roasted tomatillos (not the kid-friendly version described below!).

Having a husband who is a Mexican chef, I’ll send you to his blog for an AMAZING salsa verde recipe made for the adult palate, or even a more adventurous child’s palate. His recipe has a bit of a spicy kick, a yummy smokiness from roasting the tomatillos, and stronger overall flavors. But when I worked as an instructor of 3-5 year olds at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, my task was to create a super mild, yet tasty, variation that my littlest, pickiest eaters might want to try. And this recipe was such a success that the parents all came back the next day asking for the recipe! Apparently their little ones couldn’t stop talking about how much they loved this salsa.

Now, I was limited by what we had ripe in the garden on the day that I made this salsa, so when I found we didn’t have quite enough tomatillos that were ready, I chose to add in some grape tomatoes (so it’s not really a traditional recipe of salsa verde).  But it worked to introduce my youngest eaters to a new food, tomatillos, so I was happy.  But if you want, feel free to try the recipe using only tomatillos, as most classical versions are made without tomatoes.

Also, if you read my previous article on growing tomatillos, you know that in order to grow nice and large tomatillos, you need to prune your tomatillo plants. Well, the tomatillo plants that were growing at the Children’s Garden that year were woefully unpruned, so our tomatillos were about the size of cherry tomatoes. If you have larger tomatillos growing in your garden, please adjust the recipe accordingly.

Molcajete, or a giant mortar and pestle, commonly used in Mexican kitchens to create salsas and guacamole (photo credit:  KONSTANTINOS TROVAS http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Molcajete_y_tejolote.jpg)
Molcajete, or a giant mortar and pestle, commonly used in Mexican kitchens to create salsas and guacamole (photo credit: KONSTANTINOS TROVAS http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Molcajete_y_tejolote.jpg)

One final point, is that we were lucky at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens to have access to a molcajete, or a giant mortar and pestle made from volcanic rock. What was great about using a molcajete (other than the fact that it gives a great texture to the salsa), is that each child could have a chance at crushing the ingredients, and to feel like they contributed to the end product. If you don’t have access to a molcajete, then a blender would work just fine as well. The salsa made with a molcajete will be chunky, whereas the salsa made with a blender will be smooth, similar to the picture above.  Sorry, I unfortunately don’t have a picture of the kid-friendly version!

Kid-Friendly Tomatillo Salsa (salsa verde)

  • 10-12 tiny tomatillos from our garden, or 3-4 about larger tomatillos that you would find in the store
  • Roughly equal amount of tomatoes (we used 12 golden grape tomatoes from our garden)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 slice of onion
  • The leaves off of a 2-3 stalks of cilantro (maybe equal to about a teaspoon or two of cilantro once it’s been chopped up)
  • Half of a juicy lime
  • Salt to taste (we used about a half teaspoon)

Ask students for help peeling husks off of tomatillos, and then wash the stickiness off of the tomatillos with soap and water. Next, cut tomatillos and tomatoes into small pieces. Chop up garlic, onion, and cilantro finely and add to tomatillo mixture. Add salt and squeeze half of a lime in (you may choose to add more lime juice or salt to taste). Use a large mortar and pestle to crush all of the ingredients together. The fruit of the tomatoes and tomatillos should especially be well crushed. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, this can also be put into the blender to make a less chunky salsa. Serve with chips and ENJOY!

**Final notes: I like to further involve the students in the cooking process as much as possible, as they will quickly get bored just watching me talk. Since many of these ingredients are probably new and unfamiliar, I would pass them around for students to touch or smell, so they can learn more about these foods that they may not get to see at home. For example, I would definitely pass around a sprig of cilantro and show students how to touch the leaf and then smell their fingers. Additionally, I might spend time showing students how to peel the garlic and onion.

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