Tomatillo Red Chili Salsa Recipe

Published on October 16th 2022 by Jennifer Dodd.
Last updated on March 20th 2024
This recipe, developed through the collective effort of at least six experts, underwent meticulous research and testing for over three months. Learn more about our process in the art and science behind our recipes. This post may contain affiliate links. Read our Disclosure Policy.
Overview of a bowl of tomatillo red chili salsa in a bowl with tortilla chips around it

Tomatillos are part of the nightshade and tomato family, primarily grown in Mexico and Central America. Tomatillo translates to "little tomato" in the Mexican dialect or "little lantern" in Guatemala. Tomatillos are produced with a paper-like husk wrapped around the fruit, and as they develop, the husk splits and turns color from green to brown as the fruit ripens, much like a gooseberry. Most tomatillos are green, with some varieties found to be red or even purple color to them. Tomatillos have a sour, tart flavor adding almost a lemony taste to the dishes they're in, and are most commonly seen blended into Salsa Verde, served as a dipping sauce for tortillas. If you were to bite into a raw tomatillo, you might be put off by its tart taste; however, cooking tomatillos help to sweeten the fruit, removing some sourness from the tomatillo.

For this Tomatillo Red Chili Salsa recipe, the tomatillos are poached in salted water with garlic cloves and onions until they've softened. Then, they're blended with red chile powder, cumin, fresh cilantro, and salt, producing a refreshing yet mildly spicy salsa that can be served either warm or cold, depending on the dish. Typically, you'll have a warm tomatillo salsa spooned on top of enchiladas or tacos, with a complex version used to dunk tortilla chips into or drizzle on burrito bowls.

If you're new to using tomatillos, you'll notice that once you remove the husk, the fruit will have a sticky feel - rinse them underwater to remove the natural stickiness. If fresh tomatillos are unavailable at your local market, you can also find canned tomatoes that are already cooked and cut up that you can use as a substitute. 

Is tomatillo red chili salsa spicy?

This tomatillo red chili salsa has a medium spice to it.  

Is red or green tomatillo salsa hotter?

The color of the salsa doesn't necessarily determine the level of heat the salsa will have. The heat comes from the chilies added to it and not the color of the salsa. 

Are tomatillos spicy hot?

Tomatillos aren't spicy; they have a tart, sour, and fruity profile.  

Can you eat a raw tomatillo?

Yes, tomatillos can be eaten raw. However, they can be on the wrong side. Raw tomatillos can be chopped up and added to pico de Gallo or blended into salsa, adding a distinctively tart flavor. If you're not a fan of sour foods, poach or roast the tomatillos first, which will help to sweeten things up. 

Author: Jennifer Dodd
Average: 5 (4 votes)
Total rating includes sum of all comments and anonymous votes.

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Time & Serves

Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
20 mins
2 persons


  • 4 cups Water for cooking 

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt 

  • 8 Tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed

  • 3 cloves Garlic, whole

  • 1 small Yellow Onion, peeled, cut into quarters

  • 1 teaspoon Red Chile Powder, add a little more if you enjoy a spicier salsa

  • 1 teaspoon ground Cumin 

  • 1/4 cup Cilantro Leaves, chopped 


Bring the water and one teaspoon of salt to a boil. Add the tomatillos, garlic, and onions to the water, and cook for 15 minutes until the tomatillos have softened. 

Overview of tomatillos, onions and garlic cooking in water

Strain the tomatillo mixture using a strainer and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Add the tomatillo mixture and the rest of the ingredients to a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. 

Overview of a blender containing tomatillo red chili salsa ingredients

Add the salsa to a dipping dish or place it in an airtight container for later use. 

Overview of a bowl of tomatillo red chili salsa and tortilla chips
Jennifer Dodd

Savor the taste of culinary excellence with Jennifer, where each dish tells a story of tradition and adventure.

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Jennifer Dodd

Savor the taste of culinary excellence with Jennifer, where each dish tells a story of tradition and adventure.

More posts by Jennifer Dodd