One of my personal rules when starting my locavore devotion was that I would try new things. I frankly did not grow up in the age of fabulous vegetable preparation. I recall my mother beginning to boil zucchini slices before putting a roast in the oven to cook and her not taking kindly to my brother and I using the see through slimy slices as monocles during dinner since you COULD see through them.
When I go to the Farmer’s Market I try to find things I’m unfamiliar with to try. I usually end up peppering the farmer with questions about how to use or prepare it getting some great suggestions.
This is how I found tomatillos. Frankly in the past they’ve scared me. Odd little husked things. I had no idea how to eat them, prepare them, what they were even related to the food family (thought maybe they were a large nut). I finally decided this was the year. After a long discussion with someone at Isabelle farms I felt encouraged and thought I would end up doing something saucy.
I learned tomatillos are in the tomato family. From the looks of them, a second cousin twice removed me thinketh. I played around and landed on a salsa recipe I think is the bomb. AND what I love most after the flavor? It’s fast baby, and simple. No chopping per se. The flavor has a very interesting sweetness that is offset by the heat of the chilies and the salt. It’s unexpected and something I now crave.
Ok, a personal recipe pet peeve? When someone conveys a recipe and they never use exact measurements or use terms like ‘a bit of this, a dash of that’. Not helpful if you don’t know flavor profile of what you are working with.
Having said all this I will throw myself on the sword to say I’ve found with salsa there is a lot of experimenting to your taste. Three serrano chilies might be mild to me, but to you more like a cartoon where their heads turn red, puff up and blow off their bodies to the sound of a steam train whistle due to the heat. I’ve also noted the flavor intensity of a given ingredient can vary each time I buy it. Do keep that in mind and taste as you go when making any salsa.
Yield: About 6 cups. It fills a bowl of a food processor
Time required: 15-20 minutes
3 pounds of tomatillos
A LARGE onion (I frankly use up what I have; my most recent batch I threw in ½ a Spanish onion, a ¼ of a Walla Walla onion and ½ of a large yellow onion)
Chiles: 4 serrano chilies, 2 jalapeno (large)
5 cloves of garlic
Salt: two large pinches (about 2 teaspoons)
Cilantro: two large handfuls (maybe around a cup’s worth); I pull off a hunk and throw it in the food processor bowl, no chopping required
1. Preheat the broiler.
2. Line two cookie sheets with foil or cycle the same one through two rounds of broiling.
3. Husk the tomatillos and rinse them. They have a tackiness to the skin which will not rinse off and I’d not worry about it.
4. Put the tomatillos, the chilies and the unpeeled garlic cloves on the cookie sheet. Put them under the broiler checking them every few minutes until they char which is around 7-10 minutes for the tomatillos and faster for the chilies usually. If the chilies I use are smaller, I remove them as soon as they’ve charred while the rest broil to perfection.
5. While broiling, peel and cut the onion into large chunks and put it into the food processor bowl or blender to await the rest of the ingredients.
6. When the tomatillos are done let them cool for just a few minutes until you can handle them and put them into the food processor bowl. Squeeze the contents of the garlic cloves into the food processor bowl as well ensuring the peel does not go into the salsa.
7. A note on handling the chilies: wear gloves. True confessions? I ignored this sage advice even when coming from Bobby Flay and Rick Bayless feeling it was way too fussy a step for the likes of me. Last time I did this I slit the chilies, scrapped out the seeds with my fingernails and then washed my hands like Lady Macbeth (‘out damned chile oil’). Despite my best Surgeon-like hand scrubbing efforts I scratched an inch below my eye hours later and immediately thought I would need an eye transplant. I repeat; wear gloves.
Now that you have your gloves on, you want to slice off the chile below the cap on the top and down the length of it. I open it and use a blunt knife to gently scrape out the seed and pulp (the seeds are what make them uber hot). Then throw the decapitated, seeded chilies into the food processor.
8. Toss in the cilantro and salt. Turn on the food processor and pulverize to a liquid salsa consistency.
9. One last step I’ve added is totally for visual appeal. I like something red in this salsa since when blended it is all green. I’ve found some peppers that are red (not bell peppers) with a subtle sweet taste and throw a few in just for the flecks of red which I think makes it look more appealing.