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Tomatillos substitution?

My wife is in the mood for chilaquiles this week, and I was going to make the following recipe, but my local store doesn't seem to have one of the main infredients this week. What should I use instead of tomatillos? I've never cooked with them before, so I was looking forward to the opportunity......and I'm not sure how to make a substitution when I don't know what tomatillos taste like. Would tomatos be the same if I add some additional seasoning?


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  1. Do you have access to green tomatoes?

    2 Replies
      1. re: MMRuth

        This would be the best option. The Kroger here has them sometimes, and the farmer's market here usually has a few. It's kind of a matter of luck, though...

      2. Tomatillos, will cook down like a tomato but the taste is different. Tomatillos are tart, if you can't get fresh use canned. They have a taste all their own, deliciously tart.

        1 Reply
        1. re: chef chicklet

          I agree, canned tomatillos are an excellent product, I use them frequently for out of season enchiladas. If you use tomatoes, you'll likely want to add some lime to try to address the tartness drop off.

        2. You could add some canned diced green chiles.

          1 Reply
          1. re: menuinprogress

            I have heard of using canned diced green chiles mixed with lime juice as a substitute for tomatillos when stretched.

          2. I would use the tomatoes. There may be more liquid though. In that case just cook the sauce a bit longer to reduce it. The flavor of tomatillos is unique. Give the recipe another try when you can get them. A couple chipotles en adobo would make a nice sub for the other spices.

            1. Part 1 of the recipe is making a Mexican style cooked salsa. So you could substitute a premade sauce, or a variation that uses tomatoes. If you think of chilaquiles as an informal dish that uses stale tortillas, then using what ever sauce you have on hand, makes plenty of sense.

              As to taste, tomatillos are a bit like tart tomatoes. If you have had a 'salsa verde', it is likely to have been made with a mix of tomatillos and green chiles.


              6 Replies
              1. re: paulj

                In this same vein, how does one pick out a "good" tomatillo? I used some in a tomatillo-red pepper sauce some weeks back and ended up discarded 3-4 whole tomatillos simply because of thier color. They were very light green and just didn't look as good as the darker ones. Did I waste them all?!

                1. re: DKS1

                  As long as they are not rotten, squishy, I use them. They are normally cooked or pureed. And since they are tart even when ripe, I don't see a problem with using them early (if that is what the light green means).

                  1. re: DKS1

                    The lighter yellow-green ones taste better than the dark green ones. Another variety that has a purple tinge is also good. Pick medium or smaller firm tomatillos. They should fill their husks or be bursting out of them. This indicates that they are fully mature. Store in a paper bag in the vegetable crisper for about two weeks. Or they can roll around loose depending on your crisper.

                    1. re: DKS1

                      I am growing tomtillos for the first time this year and according to the gardening sites, the tomatillo is ripe when it turns a yellow-green color. They are a darker green when the fruit first bursts the husk.

                    2. re: paulj

                      True...chilaquiles was a poor man's dish made from leftovers and what ever was on hand. I shouldn't get too hung up on a recipe and see what I can make of this.

                      1. re: egbluesuede

                        you are right, there are many different variations, its all good!

                    3. Use green salsa, sometimes labeled salsa verde. I know that Whole Foods carries one under their 365 Degree label.
                      Salsa verde is made with tomatillos.

                      1. Wow, not even Canned tomatillos? You must live in a small town, or maybe it's one of those 'lifestyle' markets. Grrrr.
                        Try going with Red sauce chilaquiles:
                        If your market doesn't have guajillos, New Mexicos or Californias will substitute fine.
                        If you can't get whole dried chiles (yes, possible even here in California) use Pure dried chile powder of the above varieties, NEVER a spice mix like Gebhardts. The flavor and texture won't be quite the same.

                        13 Replies
                        1. re: DiveFan

                          Herdez makes a salsa-verde that is very heavy on the tomatillos and would work as a substitute for the sauce in the recipe. (In fact I used to make my own sauce using fresh tomatillos and after trying the salsa verde I don't ever go through the trouble any more.) LaVictoria also makes a decent version. Try the mexican food isle at your supermarket.

                          The tomatoes won't really work as a substitute. Canned mild green chilies would be closer, but spicier. In a pinch you could always use a mix of the least ripe tomatoes you can find and the green chilies.

                          1. re: AmyNC

                            I discovered the Herdez Salsa Verde when I was making a chicken enchilada recipe I got from Chowhound. I couldn't find any at the store, and was too lazy to go to a latin market. The stuff worked great, and the recipe was delicious. On my second go-round, I actually went to the latin market and got some tomatillos, but I used the Herdez as well....honestly, I don't think I would miss the fresh...a very unusual scenario.

                            1. re: AmyNC

                              Surprisingly, as I'm getting older I notice the preservatives and filler crap in canned and bottled salsa more. La Victoria, no mas. Herdez, well maybe. Sorry y'all can't get tomatillos in your area. Even dee-de-dee Safeway has them here.

                              1. re: AmyNC

                                I agree about the Herdez canned salsa verde. It works quite well in some rice dishes I make and as a super quick base for the sauce for some green chicken enchiladas we're fond of at my house. The LaVictoria version is also good, but I prefer the Herdez. I don't recall that there's anything funky in it.

                                1. re: ccbweb

                                  ccb-- could you post how you do your enchiladas?

                                  1. re: foxy fairy

                                    Sorry it took so long for me to get back to this, I meant to a week ago. I make no claims about authenticity, just something we find tasty in my house.

                                    I do my enchiladas a few different ways depending on the season and how much time I've got to put things together. Or, really, how lazy I'm feeling because honestly it doesn't take much longer no matter how it goes.

                                    I always start with skin on, bone in chicken thighs, then add tomatillos (either canned or fresh) and jalapenos and/or serranos along with some lime juice (more if I'm using canned tomatillos). Sometimes I'll use the Herdez salsa verde in place of the hot peppers and it's got some citric acid in it, I think, so I often use less or no lime juice in that case. Its basically a stepwise chuck it all in the pot recipe.

                                    1 1/2 - 2 pounds chicken thighs (usually 6-8) - works with leg quarters, too
                                    2-3 jalapeno peppers and/or serrano peppers, medium dice (I leave the seeds in, but it depends on how hot you like it)
                                    1 pound fresh tomatillos coarsely chopped or 1 28oz can of tomatillos
                                    juice of 1/2 -1 limes
                                    1/2 cup chopped cilantro
                                    12 corn tortillas
                                    cheese if you like it

                                    Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat and then add some vegetable or canola oil (2 tablespoons usually does it) and start the chicken skin side down until it gets really nicely browned (season with salt and pepper), then flip it and let the other side brown for a couple of minutes (season this side, too). Add the peppers and let them sautee for a minute (literally) and then add the tomatillos (and a touch more salt). They'll break down fairly quickly and will provide all of the liquid you'll need for the ensuing braise. Give the pot a stir a couple of times to make sure the chicken isn't sticking and the tomatillos have started to break down. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low, add the cilantro, partially cover the pot and let it cook for an hour and a half or so. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't cook down too far. I will very occasionally add some chicken broth or a little water, but that's rare. It's better to end up with too much liquid than to try to cook it down a lot, so keep the heat pretty low.

                                    After an hour or hour and a half, you should take it off the heat. At this point, you can put the whole thing into a container and put it in the fridge and deal with it the next day, or even a couple of days later. But let it cool long enough to handle (if I want to roll the enchiladas right away, I pull the chicken out and put it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap -- it dries out otherwise). Pull the chicken off the bone (discard the skin) and add it back to the sauce.

                                    I steam the tortillas just enough to make them pliable, usually 30 or 45 seconds in the microwave with a damp papertowel does the job.

                                    Put a bit of the sauce in the bottom of a baking dish, stick a tortilla in, add some chicken mixture with some sauce, roll it so the seam side is down and repeat until you've filled the dish. I usually fill a 11x7.5" pyrex dish. Pour any remaining sauce over the top of all of the enchiladas.

                                    Add cheese if you like (my wife likes very much, so I cover the whole top). You can put it in the fridge at this point and it'll keep for a couple of days, or you can bake it at 350 or 400 for about 20 minutes. If you like the cheese toasty, finish with a quick broil.

                                    I think that's it....but don't hesitate to let me know if something isn't clear.

                                    1. re: ccbweb

                                      I think I've already said how much I like this, but thanks again! My husband really likes it.

                                      I've made it 3 times now, and my favorite version involves sauteing onion and julienne zucchini before adding the salsa.

                                      The MOST important thing, however, seems to be the quality of the corn tortilla. The one I got at the organic market made from yellow corn added a very noticeable corn flavor and was a great combo with the chicken and salsa...one of those "greater than the sum of it's parts" things. Corn tortillas that were pale colored from the Latin market just didn't seem to have any taste.

                                      1. re: danna

                                        Great point about the tortillas...they really make a huge difference in the overall dish. The better the tortillas the better the enchiladas...so very true.

                                      2. re: ccbweb

                                        Ok....last week I was really in the mood for the chilaquiles.....but now I'm REALLY in the mood to make these enchiladas! Thanks!

                                  2. re: AmyNC

                                    Thanks for the tip on this for a quick fix. My local store doesn't carry this or any other brand of salsa verde....of course....but I always look around when traveling and brought back 4 cans from Tampa last week. Now I'll have a back-up when my store doesn't have frest tomatillos!

                                  3. re: DiveFan

                                    Not even canned unfortunately. Not so much small town as "geographically challenged for international cuisine"....I'm close to Amish country here in PA, and it's not that ethnically diverse for food at the local super. I may have some luck going with the Salsa Verde route......

                                    1. re: egbluesuede

                                      Try up in Hazelton, I hear they have all sorts of Mexican bodegas.

                                      Just kidding ;-)

                                      I was going to suggest trying some nopales with the red tomatoes and chiles. They should add some tartness and green color, but given your situation I'd assume you couldn't get nopales either.

                                      As an aside, I had some leftover chilaquiles for breakfast this morning (El Campesino in Peters Twp., PA). Tasted pretty good, but somebody's gotta teach those guys how to shred meat...

                                      1. re: Panini Guy

                                        ROFL! If he can't get tomatillos he'll have access to nopales? Now THAT'S funny and a little cruel.

                                  4. By the way, tomatillos are just big gooseberries, so if you can get some unsweetened, that might be an interesting substitute.

                                    Lots of folks have talked about the flavor substitution, but nobody has mentioned the texture thing. Tomatillos, especially when they're cooked a little, help thicken sauces. They're sticky and kind of glutinous. If you substitute with chiles, you may need a touch of a thickener.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: heatherkay

                                      would okra do as a thickener? :)

                                    2. Good news everyone.....my wife was absolutely determined and went to several farmers markets and a few out of the way grocery stores. Last one she went to finally had fresh tomatillos. I was all set to wing a salsa verde or a tomato/green chili/lime combo.
                                      Glad I got lots of tips on the tomatillos, as I really enjoyed cooking with them for the first time. There really is nothing quite like them.

                                      And the results.....

                                      RAVE reviews from the missus. I used the recipe straight up (with extra garlic of course) and the chilaquiles were the best I ever had. If anyone else out there likes chilaquiles....try this one out. I'll keep an eye out for fresh toms in the future and try some other dishes with them. Thanks again everyone!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: egbluesuede

                                        The recipe looks good, glad you got the real deal...

                                        We spent the night at some good friends awhile ago we live about an hour away, and its fun to catch up. I can tell you this dish is about as good as it gets after a night of fun. We practically licked our plates~