Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

Having grown up in California, Mexican food is in my blood. I get so excited when the tomatillos ripen because I get to make some favorite dishes that remind me of home like fresh salsas and enchiladas. After my day picking at the farm, I decided to make an easy Mexi-centric meal using up some of the delicious high summer produce available today. First of all I cooked up a big batch of taco meat using grated zucchini as a filler to stretch out the meat and add in vital micronutrients (see recipe below). I served my son crunchy tacos with the meat and a bit of cheese, and for the adults I made taco salad using additional produce items from the farm, including green pepper, radishes, radish greens, lettuce, and cherry tomatoes. An avocado dressing (like this one) would have been great with it but since I did not have an avocado I simply used a leftover oregano vinaigrette on the salad. It was delicious. Finally, I cooked up some edamame in a pot of boiling salted water (requires only 2-3 minutes cooking time), drained it, then tossed it with olive oil and my easy Mexican seasoning (see recipe below). I actually got one of those rare grunts from my teenage son as he cleared his dinner plate post meal (after devouring about half of the edamame himself)…it sounded something like, “that was good”.

Featured item—Tomatillos

My love affair with tomatillos is fairly new, as the tomatillo and I were formally introduced only about 10 years ago. Before that, my amour was salsa verde, the tart, green, vibrant sauce you could find only in Mexican restaurants served as either a salsa or a sauce. I was a huge fan of enchiladas and tamales that featured this kind of sauce but pre-made sauces of this kind weren’t easy to find. Out of frustration and sheer desperation, I decided to start making my own from scratch. That is when I met the humble tomatillo in its strange husk. I was intrigued.

I had always assumed that salsa verde was made from some kind of green chili, but instead it was made from something else entirely, a tomatillo. Like a small green tomato, but not a tomato at all, tomatillos are clothed in an odd husk with a sticky substance on the fruit. I admit that at first I was a little intimidated, but I was determined to get to know this fruit better.   What I found is that it is remarkably easy to cook with and simply delicious to eat, with a tangy, almost citrusy vibrancy that is addictive. If you have not met my love, the tomatillo, you must do so, for once you get over its initial strangeness, you too, will be unable to resist its charms.

In case you are hesitant to meet this stranger, keep in mind that it comes from the venerable Nightshade family. Its close garden relatives are familiar “respectable types” you know well, such as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Traditionally used in Mexican cuisine, tomatillos are gaining popularity as they become more familiar to home cooks across the country.

If you fancy the “nutritional types”, tomatillos are not a bad choice, being low in calories and a good source of vitamin C, Vitamin K and fiber. Tomatillos are also easy to store. They last longest if removed from their husky home and placed in plastic in the refrigerator, where they can hang out for a good couple of weeks. Be sure to wash off the sticky substance that coats the fruit before using them.

Tomatillos grow and mature within inedible papery husks. When it is ready to be harvested, the tomatillo fills out and pushes through the bottom of the husk and splits it open. Mature fruit tends from green to yellow, but I have read that yellow tomatillos, while sweeter, lose their characteristic tartness. For that reason, many recommend picking the tomatillos once they have filled out the husk and barely split it open, but when the fruit is still bright green.

Tomatillos are eaten raw or cooked. Raw, they maintain a crisp tartness that is great in salsas and salads. Cooked, the flesh becomes quickly softened and their tartness tamed, although they still keep a certain level of acidity. Here are some ideas of ways to prepare tomatillos.

  • Raw—chopped or blended in salsa; chopped in salads (try it mixed with fruit); in cold soups like gazpacho
  • Boiled—just until soft (about 5-7 minutes), then pureed to make sauces or salsa. Also great in soups/stews, either left in pieces or pureed.
  • Broiled—charred and softened (usually quickly) and used for salsa verde or other sauces.
  • Grilled—try putting them on your next shish-kabob, or grill to soften, then puree for sauce.
  • Uses for Salsa Verde (see recipe below)—salsa; sauce for enchiladas, tamales, tacos or burritos; braising sauce for meat, esp. chicken and pork; a base for stew (as in posole).

At Holcomb Farm, tomatillos are offered as a pick-your-own crop that will be maturing from now until the fall. Keep your eyes on the PYO news and be sure to pick when the fruit is mature and ripe (i.e. when it fills out and starts to split the husk).


There are many recipes for salsa verde but most contain the following ingredients in varying amounts. The method for this version is adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen cookbook. Use it for salsa, enchiladas, tacos, as a braise for meat or as a base for stew. Can be frozen.

Salsa Verde                                                                                    makes about 4 cups


– 2 pounds tomatillos husked and rinsed

– 2 whole jalapeno, rinsed

– 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled

– 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

– 1 large onion, chopped

– 2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth


  1. place tomatillos, unpeeled garlic, and jalapenos on a sturdy baking sheet. Preheat broiler with top rack placed 6 inches below heat. Broil tomatillo mixture, turning pieces every couple of minutes, until vegetables are lightly charred but soft, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  1. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a heavy stockpot on medium heat until hot. Add onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and soft, about 8 minutes. Srape onion into a blender or food processor bowl but keep pan ready to use again.
  1. Squeeze garlic from skins and place in blender or processor bowl with onions. Peel as much skin as possible off of jalapenos and split open, using a small sharp knife to remove seeds and ribs. Place jalapeno flesh (without seeds and ribs), along with all of the tomatillos and any accumulated juices, in blender or processor bowl. Add 1/4 cup broth and blend until completely smooth.
  1. In stockpot used to cook onions, add 2 teaspoons oil and heat on medium-high heat. Add tomatillo mixture all at once. Mixture will splatter and sputter so be careful. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture darkens and thickens, about 4 minutes. Add remainder of broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and, cook, stirring frequently, until sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 10-15 minutes. Add salt. Taste and adjust salt level if necessary.


Salsa Verde Chicken Enchilada Casserole                                   serves 6


– 3-4 cups Salsa Verde

– 2 cups shredded cooked chicken

– about 12 corn tortillas

– 2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend, or use Monterey Jack


  1. Preheat oven to 400.

Spray a 9 X 13 casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread 1/4 cup salsa verde evenly over bottom of dish. Lay a single layer of tortillas over sauce, cutting pieces to fit and trying to not overlap too much. Cover evenly with half the chicken. Pour about 3/4 cup sauce evenly over chicken. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese. Cover with another layer of tortillas, again cutting to fit and not overlapping pieces. Repeat layering with rest of chicken, 3/4 cup sauce, and 1/3 of the cheese. Top with a final layer of tortillas. Cover completely with a thin layer of sauce, and sprinkle remainder of cheese on top.

  1. Bake at 400 for 30-40 minutes or until top is golden and casserole is bubbly. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting.


Watermelon Tomatillo Salsa                        Makes about 3 cups


– 3/4 to 1 cup tomatillos husked and rinsed, chopped into small pieces

– 2 cups seeded watermelon, chopped into small pieces

– 1 jalapeno, seeded, deribbed, and minced

– 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

– juice of 1/2 lime

– salt to taste


Mix ingredients in a medium bowl. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or place in refrigerator for an hour or two before serving.


Cherry Tomato and Tomatillo Salsa                                              makes 2 cups


– 1 cup cleaned, diced tomatillos

– 1 cup cleaned, diced cherry tomatoes, any color

– 1 clove garlic, crushed

– 1 jalapeno, seeded, ribs removed, and finely minced

– 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro


Mix all ingredients together and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes to develop juices and flavor. Serve with scoop style chips for getting every last drop of liquid.


Mexican Seasoning


– 1 tablespoon chili powder

– 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, heaping

– 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, heaping

– 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or less, according to desired degree of heat

– 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

– 1/2 teaspoon paprika

– 2 teaspoons ground cumin

– 1 teaspoon coarse salt

– 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper


Mix well and store in airtight container. I like to grind in a morter and pestle to release flavors. Makes about 3 tablespoons.


Skinny Taco Meat                                               Serves 4


– 1 pound lean ground bison, beef, or turkey, preferably grass fed

– 1 clove garlic, minced

– 1/2 – 1 jalapeno, seeded, deribbed, and minced

– 3/4 cup grated zucchini or summer squash

– 1 tablespoon Mexican seasoning blend, plus 1/2 teaspoon (or to taste)

– 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar


In a large skillet, cook meat on medium heat, breaking up with a spatula, until crumbled and browned all the way through. Drain. Return meat to skillet and add garlic, jalapeño, zucchini, and seasoning mix. Cook, stirring frequently, until zucchini is tender and largely “disappears” in the meat, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vinegar and mix well. Serve immediately in tacos or on taco salad.

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