Salsa Verde Origin Story
Salsa verde literally means “green sauce” in Spanish, which is an apt name given the abundance of green vegetables and herbs it contains. There’s no single agreed-upon backstory for this Mexican sauce, but most concur that it was a common condiment of the Aztecs because it was documented by the first Europeans in Mexico. Who knows how long they were making it before that? All we know is that it’s been around long enough that no one is sure.
Since we’re talking salsa, let’s get clear on what that is. If you’re from the US like me, when I say “salsa” you’re probably imagining a chunky dip made primarily from chopped tomatoes and a bit of onion. But in Mexican cuisine, salsa means sauce and there are many, many varieties of salsa, not all of which are made from tomatoes. This one, for example, is a green sauce, no tomatoes to be found. And there are many sauces in cuisines around the world known as “green sauce”. There’s the French “sauce verte”, Argentine chimichurri, or Italian pesto as a few examples. Here I am talking about the one that is a staple of Mexican cuisine, that you’ll find in Mexican restaurants or bottled in a store. While ingredients can vary, it typically contains tomatillos and green chili peppers, and may also contain cilantro, greens, or lime…so lots of green foods!
What’s in Salsa Verde?
This is one of those recipes where every cook has their own ingredients and preparation preferences, perhaps passed down through their family. But there are a few core ingredients that make it a Mexican salsa verde and the great thing about this recipe is that you can customize it to your taste.
The three essential ingredients are tomatillos, green chili peppers, and onion.
Tomatillos: these fruits look like small green tomatoes with a papery husk that is a bit sticky when you peel it back. Native to Mexico, they are not as sweet as a tomato (and not related despite similar names) and the fruit is denser and less watery. They’re sweet when roasted or acidic when raw. To prepare them, you’ll need to remove the husk and rinse off the stickiness.
Green chili peppers: The most common peppers for salsa verde are jalapeño and serrano, and perhaps poblano. The great thing about this recipe is that you can choose the level of heat. I used the mild poblano, which adds a rich smokiness, and the slightly more spicy jalapeño. These two peppers will produce a sweeter and mild sauce and are good options if spicy really isn’t your thing. But if you want more of a kick, I recommend adding a serrano pepper as well.
Onions: I like yellow or white onions best for the sauce.
In addition to the above, I added cilantro, pepitas, and radish greens. Yes, you can eat the tops of radishes – here they add a mild but pleasant bitter note to the sauce. I don’t recommend buying radishes specifically for this, but if you’re making Mexican food it’s likely you’ll have them on hand, so don’t throw out the tops! Put them in your sauce! If you don’t have radishes, other leafy greens like spinach would work too. Finally, I added a bouillon cube dissolved in water for extra flavor, though vegetable broth would work too. You can also experiment with other foods like avocado and limes, so I encourage you to try out different versions until you get to your favorite.
How do you make salsa verde?
There are two main approaches to making salsa verde: boil the vegetables in water or roast them over a flame. I went the second route, broiling the tomatillos, peppers, and onion for a deep smoky flavor. Then I combined all ingredients in a blender. I recommend keeping it a little chunky rather than blending it until completely smooth. Many people cook the sauce on a stovetop afterwards, but I found this step unnecessary and lengthier. Once your salsa is ready, taste and adjust. If you want it spicier, add some ground cayenne (a small amount at a time as it packs quite a punch); if you want it sweeter add a pinch of sugar; if you want to balance the heat add a squeeze of lime; if you want it more savory add some salt. And that’s it! Enjoy your salsa verde as a dip for chips, eat it on tacos, enchiladas, or eggs, or use it as a base for green pozole.
Sources: What Are Tomatillos, Salsa Verde, Salsa Verde Recipe, Traditional Mexican Dishes, Salsa Verde Sauce Recipes, Salsa Verde Mexican Green Sauce
Mexican-Inspired Salsa Verde
- 1/2 pound fresh tomatillos, quartered
- 1 yellow or white onion, quartered
- 1 jalapeño pepper, sliced in half lengthwise
- 1 poblano pepper , sliced in half lengthwise
- 1/2 or whole Serrano pepper, sliced in half*
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1 cup radish leaves (or spinach)
- 1/4 cup pepitas
- 2 cups water**
- 1 bouillon cube**
*Serrano will make your sauce spicy so use according to your taste.
**you can substitute 2 cups of vegetable broth instead.
- Baking sheet
Broil the vegetables. Line the tomatillos, onion, and peppers on a baking sheet and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Broil on high for 17 minutes, turning everything over around minute 10. Every broiler is different so check in regularly to avoid burning.
If using a bouillon cube, heat the water and dissolve the cube in the hot water with a whisk.
Blend. Add broiled vegetables, cilantro, radish leaves, pepitas, and 2 cups liquid into a high speed blender. Blend until combined but still chunky.
Enjoy! Serve the salsa verde with tortilla chips, eggs, on tacos, or anything else you can imagine.
One Comment Add yours