Today I’m going to share an old family recipe, my dad’s legendary green salsa.
This is my dad, Louie.
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He, despite not being Mexican or a trained chef, is an excellent salsa maker. In fact, he’s an amazing cook, period. That’s because he likes to experiment and it always pays off.
He’s the type of person that can pull random stuff out of the pantry and fridge and suddenly there’s a gourmet meal on the table.
I always wanted to be like him.
The secret to his delicious green salsa—which is a staple at ALL family gatherings—is that it’s never exactly the same. He is constantly tweaking it, or just working with what he has on hand.
What I was able to get him to commit to for this recipe is actually very different from the one he gave me 8 years ago. I was in the kitchen with him when he made this batch last week. It’s really spicy! He didn’t take out the seeds, or the veins!
Green salsa starts with tomatillos, which are not simply green tomatoes. These papery-husked nightshades are sticky and don’t taste anything like tomatoes. You can find them in most Latin American stores, in the produce aisle.
The trick to getting a good salsa is in the peppers. The heat and additional flavor come from the combination of peppers, and how many are used of each.
Here is a selection of the peppers that can be used in this salsa. From left to right are serrano, jalapeño, guero (or yellow), Hungarian, and Anaheim.
The serrano and jalapeño can be spicy. The last three, guero, Hungarian, and Anaheim, bring more flavor than heat to the mix.
If you want a spicy salsa, use more of the serranos and jalapeños. If you want to eat without crying, remove both the seeds and the veins inside and use a bit more of the other peppers.
Add a few more herbs and aromatics, and this recipe is half done!
As I mentioned above, even though this is a typical Mexican sauce, Louie himself is not Mexican. My mom Rosa is, but he’s Puerto Rican. This type of salsa isn’t prevalent where he’s from in Puerto Rico.
But he’s been making it for years! I honestly can’t remember when he started doing it, but let’s assume it’s been my entire life. My parents have been married for 43 years so that’s a long time for this recipe to mature. And I guarantee you if I ask him for it again next year, it won’t be the same.
So when we talked about it this time, I asked him what originally inspired him to make it. And as is typical of my father, his response was:
I thought I could make it better than other people.
(And he really does.)
When I ate it, I always thought, “it needs more flavor.” So I “Puerto Ricanized” it! You won’t see this in Puerto Rican cooking. Maybe something similar but not spicy. They use green tomatoes…at least that’s what I remember from when I was a kid.
Growing up Puerto Rican AND Mexican I could never exactly point to which region our food was influenced by. We were just as likely to eat refried beans with pasteles as arroz con habichuelas and tacos of carne asada. It’s the most basic of fusion, and it was always delicious.
In fact, my mom was told she had to learn how to cook Puerto Rican food right quick when she first married my dad. His sisters helped. Now HER arroz con gandules is equally legendary. She has been known to send it my cousins in other states—cousins who are also Mexican!
Being multicultural is pretty awesome that way.
I invite you to try your hand at this recipe. It’s exceptionally easy. Simply boil the ingredients together and then blend them. Sprinkle with some green onions and cilantro, and you have the perfect topping for your next family meal.
Louie's Legendary Green Salsa
- 2 pounds tomatillos dehusked
- 1/2 white onion chopped
- 6 stalks green onions divided
- 5 cloves garlic
- 2 serrano peppers deseeded
- 2 jalapeno peppers deseeded
- 1 chile guero (yellow pepper) deseeded
- 1 Hungarian pepper (long green pepper) deseeded
- 1 Anaheim pepper (long green pepper) deseeded
- 1 small bunch cilantro divided
- 3 leaves fresh Spanish oregano (use 1 tbsp dried if not found fresh)
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp dried epazote omit if not found
- 1 tbsp dried sage
- 1 tbsp dried rosemary
- juice of 1/2 lime
- salt & pepper to taste
- Add the tomatillos, onion, garlic, herbs, chile peppers, and half of both the green onions and cilantro to a pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil.
- Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the tomatillos lose their color.
- Allow to cool.
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer everything to a blender. Add enough of the boiling water to blend. Add more to desired thickness.
- Top with remaining chopped scallions and cilantro.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.