Purple Tomatillo Relish


Wandering through the farmers’ market last week, I spotted purple tomatillos. I had never seen them before, but I frequently cook with the green tomatillos that form the basis of salsa verde.

You can eat tomatillos raw, although I rarely do because they are quite sour, or you can cook them to tame the tart. The purple tomatillos seem less tart, but they still pack a pucker punch.

I mentioned I’d found these husked beauties to a chef friend and she suggested I develop a relish recipe to showcase their purple power. Cooking them, she says, dulls the color.

Tomatillos are native to Mexico, so why am I calling this recipe “relish” instead of “salsa?” Because I can.

True story: There were two dining rooms at The Boulders Resort where I worked in the late 1990’s. One was fine dining, called Latilla, and the cuisine was American with global accents. Palo Verde, a slightly more casual dining room, served only Southwestern cuisine. The kitchen was situated between the two and we cooked for both.

Sometimes, we’d make a salsa and serve it with grilled fish as a special for the Latilla room, but we couldn’t dare call it a salsa. Even though it was the same tomato/onion/avocado/lime salsa we made for Palo Verde, when it left the kitchen for the Latilla, it was a relish.

If you love holding your knife, slicing and dicing an afternoon away, you will love this recipe. I’m kidding. It doesn’t take the whole afternoon. Start by removing the papery husks from the tomatillos and wash them to remove the sticky residue.

As luck would have it, I found a purple bell pepper at the farmers’ market to go with my purple tomatillos.


Unlike the tomatillos, only the skin is purple on the pepper. The flesh is a pale yellowish-tan. You can see it at 12 o’clock in the picture below.

For this “relish,” I’ve chosen pan-roasted corn (here is my post on how to pan roast corn). Continuing clockwise, I have chopped cilantro (don’t chop it too finely or it turns bitter), and then the diced tomatillos.

Next is diced red onion and minced garlic. And I’ve chosen jalapeño for some heat. This particular jalapeño was hotter than blue blazes, so I removed some of the seeds. The hotter and drier the summer, the hotter the pepper, or so I’ve heard.


To balance the tart tomatillos, I’m dressing the relish / salsa / now salad? with honey-lime vinaigrette, which is equal parts lime juice, honey and extra virgin olive oil. Zest the lime first, if you want to punch up the lime flavor.

If you’d like a less sweet dressing, cut the honey in half, but you need some sweetness to balance the tart lime and tomatillos.


And there you have it: purple tomatillo relish … or tomatillo morado salsa … whatever you call it, it’s delicious — sweet, sour, crunchy, spicy.

Serve it with blue corn chips and call it a salsa. Or serve it over a piece of grilled fish and call it a relish.

Purple Tomatillo Relish

[print recipe]

Makes 2 cups

5 ounces purple tomatillos, husked, washed and finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 ear of corn, husked and washed, kernels removed and pan-roasted
1/2 cup small diced purple bell pepper
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1/4 cup small diced red onion
1 large clove garlic, minced (~ 1 teaspoon)
1 small jalapeño, minced (seeds removed for less heat)
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Honey-Lime Vinaigrette: 
2 teaspoons lime juice (~ 1/2 lime, and zest lime if you want more lime flavor)
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Place the first 7 ingredients (tomatillos through jalapeño) in a medium bowl and sprinkle with pinch of salt and pepper. Toss with a spoon until the ingredients are evenly distributed.

Whisk the lime juice (and zest if using) with the honey until the honey is dissolved. Whisk in the olive oil. Season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper.

Pour vinaigrette over relish mixture and toss to evenly coat. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Keeps for 3 or 4 days, covered, in the refrigerator.

4 replies
  1. Victoria Corrigan
    Victoria Corrigan says:

    Gorgeous color, wonderful flavor profile. What wouldn’t be more wonderful with this salsa, this relish, this “stuff” alongside?
    (I’m suddenly picturing it over grilled salmon, perhaps with an aromatic but simple quinoa/rice pilaf (Inca Red and Wehani?))
    Another winner, Gwen; many thanks for raising the bar once again!

    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      That sounds terrific, Victoria. You may not know this, but your comments make me keep plugging away on the blog. Really appreciate you taking time to share your thoughts.


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