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Two Traditional Mexican Tomatillo Recipes

My First Encounter With Mexican Cuisine

My first encounter with Mexican food was at a Taco Bell in college.

The name of the restaurant was actually something else, but Taco Bell sprung up and then bought them out. Still, a taco here was only ground meat in a hard-folded cornmeal shell, festooned with shredded lettuce and American cheese shreds, which fell out on the first bite.

The taco was neither convenient nor tasty, and as with most fast food dishes, it took too many to feel as if you'd had a meal. Greasy, too.

Over time I learned that real Mexican food is nothing like what Taco Bell serves. This article is devoted to the tomatillo, as well as two delicious recipes that feature this ingredient.



The Tomatillo in the Americas

Perdue University Extension Service tells us that the tomatillo is also known by a number of nicknames: husk tomato, jamberry, and ground cherry.

In Spanish it is called the tomate de cascara, tomate de fresadilla, tomate milpero, tomate verde, tomatillo (in Mexico), and miltomate (in Mexico and Guatemala). It has been found in archaeological digs dating as far back as 950 BC.

While the tomatillo is not a tomato as we know it, it is one of many round fruits and vegetables that a group of Mexican/South American Native Americans (likely Aztecs) called "tomatl."

The tomatillo grows in Southern California (the Baja Peninsula), southwards, all the way down to Guatemala. We often find them in grocery stores in North America now.

Taco trucks are sure to serve foods containing the tomatillo. Both the trucks and the food item are gaining popularity.

Taco trucks are sure to serve foods containing the tomatillo. Both the trucks and the food item are gaining popularity.

Chile Verde

Yield: 4 servings

Chile verde means green chili. It contains pork shoulder in a sauce of tomatillos, which appear to be tiny green tomatoes but are not. Some versions of this dish omit the potatoes or substitute green tomatoes or use a combination of red and green tomatoes/tomatillos, whatever you have on hand.


  • 10 tomatillos
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican chicken bouillon powder
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, cut in half
  • 4 jalapeño chilies, seeded (save some of the seeds if you wish the dish to be hotter, or use the New Mexico mild hatch chilis.)
  • 3 potatoes
  • 1/2 cup stewed tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Flour tortillas


  1. Remove wrappers from tomatillos and wash the vegetable.
  2. In a blender, mix 1/4 cup stewed tomatoes, tomatillos, boullion, garlic, jalapeños, and onion. Add some pepper seeds if you want more heat.
  3. Trim excess fat and cut pork into 1-inch cubes.
  4. Wash potatoes and cut them into bite-sized chunks.
  5. Using a higher-sided frying pan or iron skillet or Dutch oven, place the pan on a burner and turn the heat to moderately high. Heat the pan.
  6. Add the oil to the frying pan and tilt pan to cover the bottom.
  7. Fry pork cubes just until the outside looks white, constantly stirring so that the meat does not burn.
  8. Add the remaining stewed tomatoes and stir, then add the blender sauce.
  9. Stir well and cook for 40 minutes until the meat is somewhat tender.
  10. Add potatoes and continue to cook until meat and potatoes are tender.
  11. Heat tortillas and serve with the garnishes of your choice.
Hatch chilis, a specialty of Hatch, New Mexico.

Hatch chilis, a specialty of Hatch, New Mexico.

Tomatillo Relish

Yield: This recipe makes a large amount of flavorful relish.


  • 12 cups chopped tomatillos
  • 3 cups chopped jicama
  • 3 cups chopped Spanish onion
  • 6 cups chopped plum tomatoes
  • 2 cups chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 cups chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 cups chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 1 cup coarse salt
  • 1/2 gallon of spring water
  • 6 tablespoons pickling spices (whole, not ground up)
  • 1 tablespoon crushed or ground red pepper
  • 6 cups sugar
  • 6 cups cider vinegar


  1. Have 6 glass pint canning jars already clean and dry, with 2-piece (rim and flat covers) lids handy.
  2. Remove tomatillo husks, peel jicama and onion, and wash all vegetables, including peppers. Then chop in a blender to medium-fine, not too small.
  3. Place chopped vegetables into a large saucepan.
  4. Dissolve salt in the water in a bowl or the jug the water came in and pour the solution over the vegetables in the pan.
  5. Heat the pan until the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove pan from heat and drain through a cheesecloth-lined strainer for 15-20 minutes.
  7. Lay all the pickling spices and red pepper on a double layer of clean square cheesecloth, 6 inches on a side. Tie corners with string to make a bag.
  8. In a clean pot, stir together sugar, vinegar, and the spice bag. Turn the heat on and bring it to a boil.
  9. Add in the drained vegetables and cook until the relish boils again. Immediately turn the heat down to a simmer and cook uncovered for 30 minutes.
  10. Take out the spice bag and discard it.
  11. Fill the pint jars with relish, leaving a ½-inch space below the lip of each jar.
  12. Take out all the air bubbles in the jar by inserting a soda straw into the bubble to release the air or by tapping the jars on the counter.
  13. Wipe the lips of all the jars with a damp towel and place each two-piece metal canning lid on top.
  14. Process in a boiling hot water bath in a soup kettle for 15-20 minutes. Remove the hot jars with tongs and sit on a towel on the counter, and you will hear the lids pop as they seal and the tops of the lids dent down to indicate the seals. If you have too much relish, use a 7th jar or use it first, and when a jar does not seal, simply use it before the others and keep it refrigerated safe because it’s pickled!
Tomatillos are sure to be in this delicious lunch!

Tomatillos are sure to be in this delicious lunch!

© 2009 Patty Inglish MS