Walla Walla foodies have a dilemma on their hands when eating at one of the many Mexican restaurants or taco trucks in town: Should they accompany their meal with salsa made from tomatoes, or with salsa made from tomatillos? 

Juan Esparza and his father, Genaro, are tomatillo experts, and their insight might help you out the next time you select your salsa.

Juan, the vineyard manager at Woodward Canyon Winery, helps his father plant and harvest tomatillos, which Genaro transforms into three mouth-watering salsas. Although Genaro isn’t selling his salsas, word has spread from the tantalized tongues of family and friends to the larger Walla Walla community. Walla Walla Lifestyles went to find out the secret to his salsas. 

LIFESTYLES: So, what is a tomatillo? Is it related to a tomato?

JUAN: It’s like a tomato. It tastes like a tomato when the tomatoes are green. There are two different kinds. There’s a bigger size. The ones we have are sweet because they’re a smaller size. 

LIFESTYLES: Are the tomatillos you grow a special variety?

JUAN: My dad brought these from Mexico, Southern Mexico — Zacatecas. They’re special because they’re from that area. They grow them over there without water. They grow them only with the rain. Here, we tried it without water and with water. The ones that don’t need water have better flavor. 

LIFESTYLES: Where are you growing them? 

JUAN: Woodward Canyon. We have a little garden. We only have to replant some plants, but they grow every year by themselves. ’Round 10 years ago, I asked him (the owner of Woodward Canyon) if I could plant them there. And he said, “Yes.” These plants are like weeds. We don’t have to buy them. Sometimes we have to pull them out. 

LIFESTYLES: What kind of salsa does your dad make? 

JUAN: With tomatillos, he makes three different kinds: salsa verde, salsa roja and medium salsa. They are the same kind of tomatillos, but he adds peppers to the salsa roja to make it red. Sometimes in the roja, he puts 20 to 30 peppers. It’s spicy, but not too spicy like jalapeños. 

LIFESTYLES: Where can I get some of this salsa?

JUAN: He only makes it for his family members and never tries to sell it. Well, there’s a lot of people who have asked if he could make some and sell it. He just gives it away. 

LIFESTYLES: What is the best thing to eat with your dad’s salsas?

JUAN: When we make tacos, we use the salsa verde. Salsa roja, you can use it with any kind of food — carne asada ... any kind of food.

LIFESTYLES: Does anyone else in the family help out?

JUAN: I have seven brothers and one sister. We are a big family. They always love it when he makes the salsa. He makes it by himself. My mom makes it, but it has a different flavor. They use the same things, but it doesn’t taste the same. Everybody likes my dad’s.

Genevieve Jones is a student and foodie at Whitman College. She can be contacted by e-mail at jonesga@whitman.edu

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