Garden to table

Long Awaited Tomatillo Salsa!

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,”

        says a lot of people.

Yum! I was so excited the day I learned how to make fresh salsa. I especially love the flavor of roasted vegetables. My first salsa was a traditional tomato-based variety in which the ingredients were cooked under the broiler in the oven. I also enjoyed making enchiladas with chicken and the canned green salsas but one day I asked myself, “What would happen if I substituted tomatoes in my salsa recipe for tomatillos?” I’ll tell you what happened! I quit buying canned green salsa!

When we lived stateside, tomatillos were a staple at the local grocery store. We never hesitated to buy bundles of them and whip up fresh salsa every week. We used it in our enchiladas, tacos, as a snack with chips, and eventually I learned how to make tamales with it.

This changed when we moved to Japan.

We have still been able to make red salsa, but the green we have had to live without for nearly two years. Why? Tomatillos are not shipped to the commissary. I tried to grow them; I failed. I tried again this year; I succeeded! Our long wait for fresh tomatillo salsa is about to come to an end; hurray!

Tomatillos and peppers

Today I will show you how I make my salsa. It can be used immediately or frozen for a later date (which is my plan). I was very happy to be able to use my freshly grown tomatillos, serrano peppers, and purple cayenne peppers today!

Purple Cayenne and Serrano Peppers–Aren’t they festive?

You will need:

8-10 tomatillos (consider the size)

1 small purple onion

1 green bell pepper

1-4 spicy peppers (to your taste) such as jalapeño, serrano, cayenne, or poblano

2 garlic cloves

¼ cup of chopped cilantro

1 teaspoon cumin (we call it comino)

Optional: salt and pepper or lime juice to taste

Oven broiler or grill

Broiler safe cookware

Instructions: First place tomatillos without their husks into a bowl of water for ½ hour. This will reduce the sticky texture on the outside. You can heat the broiler during this time.

The removed tomatillo husks would make a great addition to the compost!
The tomatillos are taking a water bath for approximately 30 minutes.

Next, dice all vegetables into large chunks and discard the cores and stems of the tomatillos and peppers. Place all veggies into the oven safe dish.

Cut off the stems and make the veggies ready to go straight to the blender after cooking.

Cook under the broiler for approximately 10 minutes until you see some charring on the veggies. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Slightly charred and very flavorful, the vegetables are ready to be made into a delicious salsa.

Place all of the cooked veggies and remaining ingredients into a food processor and chop to desired consistency.

I leave a lot of seeds because we like the heat and the texture, but you can always remove them before adding to the blender if that suits your taste.

Now you can add your salsa to your desired recipe, place in a freezer safe bag for later use, or enjoy it fresh with chips immediately.

Ready to be used on a later date, the salsa is packed in freezer safe bags with the air squeezed out.


Next time, I will write about how I intend to use this salsa—in homemade Christmas Tamales! Joy to this household, a taste of home has come! That makes my heart sing.

How do you use your tomatillos? I would welcome any growing or cooking ideas you have!

gardening and inspiration

Tomatillo and Okra Do-Overs

“Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

After a long absence from blogging, my theme for this entry is totally appropriate for my return. A wonderful series of life events kept me busy and away from my writing desk (ironically one of those events involved teaching others how to write). It may be hard to pick back up after losing momentum, but it’s totally worth it. While I was away from the blog, I continued to garden. In my endeavor, there were two plants I wanted to attempt to grow again, and I can now say that I succeeded.

If you go back to my blog in May of last year, I posted an entry called “Twice Transplanting Tomatoes.” I posted an entry about their progress a couple weeks later I felt very successful planting my tomatillos and I even watched the plant become very large and full of blooms. I was sure it would be a success as blooms are the start of the coming fruit. What I did not anticipate was a vicious attack from microscopic red spider mites. The trouble with these pests is by the time you realize they are there, it may be too late for your plant. Not only were the pests a problem, but I also failed to plant more than one tomatillo plant and you need at least two for pollination. I never saw a single tomatillo.

Also last year, I tried to grow Okra. Again, the spider mites and caterpillars had a feast. I maybe ate three okra pods from that plant. It was sorely disappointing.

This year, I planted okra transplants in my front yard among my flowers and I gave tomatillos another chance late this summer. I used many of the same methods except this time the Okra had more room for its roots and a different amount of sun while the tomatillo transplants were placed in a bigger container with several garlic cloves (to hopefully deter spider mites). Also, even though I may have gotten a late start with the tomatillos, they did have the opportunity to grow in slightly cooler weather. Most spider mites thrive in the hottest weather.

SONY DSC An okra bloom

SONY DSC The arrangement: Okra, basil, chives, and low growing flowers

SONY DSC A sprouting okra pod


SONY DSC Did you know that okra is in the same plant family as the hibiscus? It’s no wonder the flowers are so stunning!

SONY DSC Pollinators help

SONY DSC  Mature okra pods, ready for the picking

As a result, we were able to harvest okra every 2-3 days in July through early October. We probably enjoyed at least ten dinners with fried okra! The plants began to de-leaf as the weather dropped and they were stripped bare in the last typhoon, but we got out of them what we expected. Like any annual, they fruited in season and stopped when their time was up.

Now, my four tomatillo plants are monsters! I’m very pleased with how big and healthy they look and this time, I actually see some tomatillos sprouting rather than just the blooms. This last month, I have not had time or energy to garden; all we did was add water and before I knew it the plants were huge and thriving. I couldn’t be more thrilled!


Last year, I didn’t have very much control of the spider mites and I had no control over the weather. I still had a choice as to whether or not I should continue. I’m glad I decided to give these plants another chance. Now, I have reaped and will reap a harvest from what I have sown.

Now, here is the How To:

For Okra:

  1. I used transplants from a local nursery. One advantage to this is the opportunity to get a variety of the plant that probably does well in this region. Another advantage is a slightly faster harvest.
  2. I dug up the soil in my yard and added some of my own compost mixed with vegetable and flower slow release fertilizer (You can make your own compost over the course of a few months or simply buy it at a garden supply). The soil here is a thick clay, but so is the soil used to start the transplants here so they fit right in; extra nutrients can’t hurt though!
  3. I chose an arrangement for my okra and accompanying plants. I planted chives and basil near the okra since I know they are compatible plants with one another and fragrant plants attract good pollinators and deter some of the pests. I also included some low growing, shallow rooting flowers. There are two things I consider when planning the arrangement—compatibility, and plant height. The tallest plants go in the back and the shortest in the front.
  4. I covered the remaining exposed areas with mulch and added water.
  5. After that, water when the soil looks dry or 1-2 times a week and try not to let okra pods grow longer than about 3-4 inches (more than that and they get tough and are hard to eat). Harvest as frequently as you can as that will encourage the plant to grow more fruit.

For Tomatillo:

  1. I started with seeds for these plants. I like to use egg shells as my starter containers and I keep them well watered in a sunny window. Peat pots are great but in my area they tend to mold quickly. I prefer not to have mold on my windowsill.
  2. Once there were at least three sets of leaves, I was ready to transplant into a pot outside. Egg shells are biodegradable, but they don’t break down as quickly as other materials. I gently crack the egg shells and pull them away from the roots before dropping the root ball in soil.
  3. To prepare the pot, I added some fresh as well as previously used soil. I removed old roots from the pot, added compost, and added slow release fertilizer. I mixed them well and moistened the soil. My choice pot is one with a water reservoir so that the plants can wick up the amount of moisture they need and I don’t have to water them as frequently.
  4. I planted each tomatillo plant along the back evenly spacing each one. I then planted a row of garlic cloves* along the middle and sprinkled pansy flower seeds along the edge.
  5. I added water to the soil and filled the water reservoir. Every couple of days I add more water to the reservoir. The plant has since cared for itself.
  6. Final tip: Check under the leaves periodically for pests. The cheapest and most organic control you can use if you find anything is to get a spray bottle with water or a garden hose and dislodge any pests you find. For larger pests such as caterpillars, slugs, snails, and beetles, you can pick them off with gloves or a tool and drop them in soapy water. If you see a lady bug or a praying mantis, leave it alone! Those bugs will kill bad bugs when you’re not around to catch them and they won’t hurt your plant. Ditto for spiders but I don’t blame you if you don’t want them around either!

For garlic:

  1. Take a garlic head from your kitchen and break off a few cloves.
  2. Stick your thumb in the soil and place a garlic clove in the hole with the pointy side up.
  3. Add water and forget about it. You’ll soon see garlic chive shoots pop up and when they brown and tip over you’ll be able to dig up a new head of garlic. It may be a small head, but it’s edible.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my return entry and can take something valuable away from it. Thank you for reading and feel free to leave me comments or questions!

when in Okinawa

When in Okinawa, Try Purple Food

You’ll  never do a whole lot unless you’re brave enough to try.
Dolly  Parton

Most people who have come to Okinawa probably know about the Purple Sweet Potato (Beni-imo) that grows prolifically here. (See article: for more information) I have noticed the dominance of the color purple with every visit I make to local food market or gift shop. Gazing at a plethora of purple snack foods, I have always been curious as to what they might taste like.

I made a trip within the last week to the farmer’s market and wanted to pick out a few new things to try and I decided that there should be at least one purple item in my cart every time I go shopping. The Beni-imo could be a post alone, but I wanted to try some Beni-imo snacks along with other fresh produce.

It’s hard to tell by this picture but this little pineapple had a very purplish hue to it. The inside was yellow like any other pineapple I’ve seen and it was delicious.

Here were the purple snacks I chose. At first glance I was sure one was a cookie. Upon closer inspection it looked more like cake.DSC03143

The bag appeared to have candy-covered peanuts which would be one of my favorite snack foods. If you look closely at the label you’ll find a small caricature that looks like a sweet potato man complete with arms and legs. So in theory these were in fact sweet potato covered peanuts. The lightly sweet crunchy coating complimented the savory peanuts well. DSC03146

I then tasted the “cake”. As I picked it up out of the container it sunk a little into my thumb revealing a central layer. It turned out to be a sandwich pastry of some sort.


My first bite revealed a fruity jam layer in the center that no doubt tasted like sweet potato. The gooey, spongy pastry was not what I expected. I’m still not sure what it is; the best I can say is that it is a Wagashi, but there are many different types of Wagashi. It tasted okay, but it was so chewy I had to stop. My mouth got tired.


Next I tried a curious fruit that was of great interest to me. Its papery outer shell and round fruit looked just like a tomatillo only this was orange and a little smaller. I knew I had seen something in a book about tomatillos being relative to an Asian Lantern fruit of some kind so I started researching on the internet. My search led me to believe that this fruit goes by a few names such as Chinese Ground Cherry, Cape Gooseberry, and Orange Tomatillo.


The inside of the fruit had an identical texture to the tomatillo, was a little sweeter and tangier, and had the similar citrusy taste and smell. I was convinced it was a closer relative to a tomatillo than a tomato and wondered how it would taste in salsa–not that I found out because I’ve already eaten them all (after saving some seeds!).


This, I was certain would be a small melon. I was very interested in a small melon because I knew I would be attempting to eat it by myself. Cutting it open I found the flesh to be pale.


My taste test gave me yet another unexpected surprise for the day. It tasted exactly like a cucumber. There was nothing sweet or melon-like about it. I do like cucumber, but I didn’t think I could eat that much cucumber. I placed the remaining portions into a container in the fridge.


I was very excited to try this tiny squash since I’m the only one in our house that really eats it. It had this little protective bottom cover and looked adorable. Then I took it home and discovered something on the bottom.


Ewww, how disappointing right?  This led me to cutting almost half of my already tiny squash to throw away. Well, the top half was yummy. Note to self and my readers: always look on the bottom of the produce before buying!


There is nothing mysterious about these tomatoes; I’m just grateful I can buy them locally.


To finish out my taste testing session, it was time to make a brew of authentic Japanese loose leaf tea. Word of caution: Japanese Tea is STRONG even for tea enthusiasts like myself. I have been wanting to try more teas for a long time but as usual I’m intimidated by the selection. Usually all of the labels are in kanji and I don’t know what the name of the teas are or what they contain. This one had the name Ryukyu Ouki Tea which is an indication that it’s Okinawan. I don’t know if Healthy Communication is a brand or what the tea is suppose to promote.


With some locally grown honey and my Japanese Tea Set I was good to go. As suspected, it was a strong hearty green tea and the honey complimented it well.


Expect more taste testing in future posts and don’t let me forget to always add something purple to my cart!

gardening, gardening and inspiration

Twice Transplanting Tomatoes

To  improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. –Winston Churchill

A little over a week ago I judged my tomato seedlings to be on their way for outgrowing their eggshell containers. Many gardeners think you should only move a transplant once or the plant will be shocked and not survive. I don’t believe that is true. Not having enough soil to place them in their final destination and being concerned about extreme weather as of late, I held off on placing the tiny seedlings into the huge outside container and moved them to a location where they will be able to develop a little more.DSC02886

I have read in my garden books about how some transplants die when you bury some of their stem due to root rot. I have read in other resources that it is good to bury some of the stem because new roots will emerge out of the buried stem and create a stronger root system. This was a good opportunity to consult one of my favorite books on the subject for advice specifically with my tomato transplants.


According to the Heirloom Seed Experts, burying tomato stems is the way to go. So I decided to carefully crack the eggshells (speed up decomposition) and drop the little ones into the holes. I am particularly excited about my first Tomatillo.


My POA was to plant the tomatillo in a self-watering container and the other three tomatoes in temporary containers that are a little bigger than the egg shells so that they can establish their root systems and harden off before I put two of them in a large grow box and one in a topsy-turvy tomato planter. In addition to planning their new container homes, I will be trying to decide who the container companions will be that will help them grow happier.

Here’s how it went:

DSC02894I prepared the new home for Tomatillo.

DSC02895 Then I dug the hole.

DSC02896Burying a banana peel? Why? Tomatoes love and need potassium and a banana peel organically contains and releases potassium. My hypothesis is that if I bury it into the soil it will slow release it’s nutrients as it breaks down and decomposes (remember, too much of a good thing is a bad thing, so be careful with any fertilizer quantities).

DSC02902DSC02904 I CAREFULLY tapped the eggshell on the ground and GENTLY rubbed my fingers along the bottom so that bits of the eggshell would flake off. I wanted to speed the decomposition process of the eggshell up and leave room for the roots to stretch their legs. I left the eggshell bits around the top layer of soil for three reasons: 1. It is a natural mulch 2. It naturally composts into the soil 3. And it acts as a deterrent for slugs and snails because they don’t like to cut themselves trying to crawl over the broken shells. I would hate for a snail to devour a newly planted seedling.

DSC02903 I did this carefully as well because I didn’t want to disturb the root system but I wanted you to see that the inner layer of the eggshell was still intact. It is super thin so there is no doubt in my mind that it will break down quickly into the soil. You can see that even though I flaked off bits of the eggshell, the roots are still together and unharmed.

DSC02906 Now into the hole.

DSC02908 Securing in place.

Then I repeated the process with the next three tomato transplants.







Since the eggshell labels would now be covered, I wrote on their names on clothes pins. The colorful containers are flimsy plastic ones I attained from the Monkey Store when I bought flowers. If the root ball doesn’t look like it’s going to come out easily and in one piece when I do the final transplant, I will be able to cut the container with scissors and slide the root ball into it’s final destination.


DSC02925DSC02926DSC02927 Yes, I used a Starbucks cup as one of the containers. I poked holes in the bottom for drainage and I was all set.

DSC02939 I added a little more soil as needed from a bag of soil that had pictures of vegetables on the cover (remember, I can’t read Kanji). It looked like a potting mix. I normally try to buy potting mix instead of potting soil so that the roots are less likely to be waterlogged. Remember potting mix=aeration and drainage for plants, and potting soil=a blend that retains water longer. As much as it rains here, I’m making sure plants have good drainage.

DSC02960 I took a little break.

DSC02962Here they are in a sunny windowsill on May 12, 2013. They will be here just a little bit longer to grow stronger roots and soon I will move them to the big grow box and the topsy-turvy. Who says multiple changes are a bad thing? Not Winston Churchill, and not I.

My closing thoughts? Don’t be afraid of change.



A special acknowledgement goes out to my husband Brian–my photojournalist for this blog post and my biggest support. I love you.

Coming soon: Pepper Transplants!