• Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • Time: 15 to 20 minutes prep, 15 to 20 minutes total

You know those dishes you can’t get out of your head? Tomatillo salsa shows up constantly in Mexican restaurants, but the one we had in Mexico City’s El Cardenal, the city’s grand dame of genteel tradition, kept haunting us.

As green as a fluorescent shamrock, wonderfully tart and herbal, it came to the table in a little blue and white ceramic mortar (the classic Mexican molcajete) with sticks of fresh cheese for dipping. 

Don’t let summer get away from you without trying this. Then again, it is pretty swell in winter, too. You’ll love it as an opener for a Mexican Menu.

Cook to Cook: Check Latino markets and specialty stores for Mexican cheeses, which are sadly unrepresented in many parts of the United States. You want a fresh cheese that is somewhat creamy, but sliceable. In a pinch, cream cheese could substitute.

Tomatillo salsa shines when it’s freshly made.


  • 1 medium garlic clove

  • 4 branches fresh coriander

  • 1/2 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed, and quartered

  • 1 tablespoon onion, coarsely chopped

  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar

  • 1/2 to 2 fresh Serrano chiles

  • Salt to taste

  • 8 ounces queso fresco (fresh Mexican cheese), cream cheese, or firm fresh goat cheese, cut into 1/2-inch by 2-inch sticks


1. Combine the garlic, coriander, tomatillos, onion, sugar, and chiles in a blender or the bowl of a food processor and pulse down to a very fine mince, until well combined but not entirely liquid. The salsa should have a slightly thickened texture to stand up to the cheese. Add salt to taste.

2. Pour the salsa into a serving bowl. Tuck some of the cheese sticks into it and have the rest on a plate. Set out in the middle of the table and have everyone dip away.  

Work Night Encore

Tomatillo Chicken or Shrimp: Use leftover tomatillo salsa to gently poach thin slices of chicken breast or whole shrimp. Serve with a spoon of sour cream and warm corn tortillas.  

Creamy Scrambled Eggs with Tomatillo Salsa: Cut leftover cheese into cubes and fold into slow-scrambled eggs, along with a few tablespoons of chopped fresh coriander or scallions, as you finish scrambling them. Pile the eggs on a plate and spoon the leftover tomatillo salsa over them.

From The Splendid Table®'s How to Eat Weekends by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift (Clarkson Potter, 2011), © copyright 2011 American Public Media.

Sally Swift
Sally Swift is the managing producer and co-creator of The Splendid Table. Before developing the show, she worked in film, video and television, including stints at Twin Cities Public Television, Paisley Park, and Comic Relief with Billy Crystal. She also survived a stint as segment producer on The Jenny Jones Show.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.