Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Ahhh... the tomatillo. Something that I knew nothing about until, well, yesterday. And I still don't know much about them, but with a little help from Rick Bayless and his "Mexican Everyday" cookbook, I feel that we are now a bit more acquainted.

Tomatillos are a relative of the tomato, very firm to the touch, and come covered in a paper-like husk. They are extremely popular in Mexican cuisine and they happen to be the star of this salsa. Every salsa needs a star. Why let the red tomato always have all the fun? (Although I do have a delicious tomato-based salsa I will share on here at some point. It is so good.)

This recipe made my first tomatillo experience a success. The salsa was tangy, with a pronounced smoky, rustic flavor. It paired well with tortilla chips, but I am most excited about topping some enchiladas with it. If you are looking to break out of your traditional salsa fare, or just try out a new ingredient, this is muy bueno.

Start out by halving the tomatillos, then pan roasting the garlic and tomatillos over medium high heat in a nonstick pan. You could also pan roast the jalapeno, but I didn't think of that until after. Shoot.

After roasting 3-4 minutes per side, place the tomatillos and garlic in a food processor. Let sit for several minutes till they're about room temperature. Or at least until you prep the remaining ingredients.

Seed and chop a jalapeno. Remind self not to touch eyes for at least a day. Wash and rough chop cilantro.

Add the cilantro, jalapeno, about 1/4 c. of water, 1/2 tsp kosher salt and the juice of about 1/2 a lime to the food processor. Give it a whirl (or two).

Pour it into a bowl, add 1/2 of a small finely-diced white onion and grab a chip! Que bueno!

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
Makes 1 1/2 cups
From Mexican Everyday
If all-raw tomatillo salsa is all light-fresh-immediate, roasted tomatillo salsa is richer and more settled, balancing freshness with the sweet caramel of pan-roasting. I love the way it perks up grilled steak tacos or makes a black bean tostada a dish to dream about. And a soft tortilla full of chorizo sausage and browned potatoes plays incredibly well with roasted tomatillo salsa. You can make the base of this salsa in advance—as much as several days. But I'd advise you to add the cilantro (finely chop it) and onion when you're ready to serve.
Makes 1 ½ cups
  • 4 medium (about 8 ounces total) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and halved
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • Hot green chiles to taste (I like 2 serranos or 1 jalapeƱo), stemmed and roughly chopped
  • About 1/3 cup (loosely packed) roughly chopped cilantro
  • ½ small white onion, finely chopped
  • Salt
Set a large (10-inch) non-stick skillet over medium-high heat (if a non-stick skillet is unavailable, lay in a piece of foil). Lay in the garlic and tomatillos (cut side down). When the tomatillos are well browned, 3 or 4 minutes, turn everything over and brown the other side. (The tomatillos should be completely soft.)

Scrape the tomatillos and garlic into a blender or food processor, and let cool to room temperature, about 3 minutes. Add the chile, cilantro and ¼ cup water. Blend to a coarse puree. Pour into a salsa dish and thin with a little additional water if necessary to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency.

Scoop the chopped onion into a strainer and rinse under cold water. Stir into the salsa. Taste and season with salt, usually about ½ teaspoon.          

Riffs on Roasted Tomatillo Salsa: Though it's common and easy to use small hot green chiles in this salsa, one of my favorite versions includes a whole roasted/peeled/seeded poblano chile coarsely pureed with the other ingredients. It may sound like heresy to Mexican cooks, but a dash of Worcestershire, balsamic or coarse-grain mustard is good in this salsa. If I'm serving this salsa with something off the grill, I'll slow-grill a large green onion or two (or just a slice of white onion), chop it and add it in place of the raw onion. To underscore the tomatillo's natural citrusy tang, I sometimes add a little fresh lime juice. Or go full-bore fruity and stir in finely chopped pineapple, apple or pear.

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