Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tomatillos

Every once in awhile, I like to cover fun ingredients that - maybe - not a lot of people out there in the Mainstream know about. Remember when I covered matcha? Of course you do. Because you follow me like a puppy. Anyway, time for me to cover another one of my favorite green things: Tomatillos.

At work today, while I was woman-ing(like manning but totally better) the deep-fryer so we'd have enough tortilla chips for the night, I asked the morning Prep Chef what was in the big pot next to the pork. I asked her in Spanish, because I'm trying to improve mine, and she answered - in English - "green tomatoes."

"Que? Tienen tomates verdes aqui?" I asked, confused. (For those of you who took French in high school, that means "What? We have green tomatoes here?")

THEY'RE SO CUTE
She laughed. "Como se dice tomatillo en ingles?"

Now I laughed. "It's just tomatillo! Like how 'chips' are just "'chips.'"

I'm guessing that, in Spanish, tomatillo just means something like "green tomato." It makes sense that it would have that name, you know, because it looks like a little green tomato in a tiny paper lantern. They're really beautiful little fruits - ones you've probably seen in the grocery store but never had any idea what the heck they were, so just went off to try something else.

Tomatillos are absolutely adorable. They have these cute little lantern-skins that keep them safe, and peeling them can be a bit of a pain...but fortunately you have me to help! Isn't that great? I thought so.

Simply take your tomatillos and put them in a large container, and fill it up with hot water from the tap. Pull off from the side and POP off the stems - those skins will come off quickly and easily, to reveal a beautiful little fruit. Rinse them thoroughly and then run cold water over them. Wash the tomatillos in cold water and rinse. Repeat this several times, since there's a weird and sticky kind of 'film' that will still reside on the tomatillos once they've been peeled, which is bitter and kinda funky. Three or four good rinses should do the trick for you. You'll know when they're clean because the water won't be 'foamy' anymore.

PROTIP: get small ones, as the larger ones tend to get bitter
To really give some fun ideas for what to do with these little gems, I found a bunch of great recipes that utilize tomatillos in different ways. Of course they're mostly Latin recipes in origin, as they're found in the Latin Americas.

The flavor profile of a tomatillo is both kind of bitter and spicy at once. The first thing I thought when I tasted them, I thought that it kind of has that umami flavor that tomatoes have. It honestly had a whole array of flavors that I didn't think a single ingredient could have, unless it was cheese or something.

Anyway, here are a few recipes that you can have fun with while using tomatillos:

Chicken tomatillo soup 
Chicken Tomatillo Soup is a great vessel for the complex flavor profile of tomatillo. Chicken is a wonderful, semi-neutral meat to accompany the bold and spicy-bitter taste, and it gives a beautiful green color along with the white.

One thing we do in the restaurant is Chile Verde, which just means "green chile", and we use pork. I'm not going to post our recipe from the restaurant(because I know my boss will kill me), but I will tell you how to make a decent salsa verde, which uses tomatillos. This isn't the recipe that we use at work, but this is a variation of a classic salsa verde that I love to use.

Shockingly, it's really easy, and kind of fun to do! Definitely wow your guests with this one - especially if you're white. (Sorry, had to put in some of my classic snide in there.)



Salsa Verde 

Ingredients:
This isn't exactly what mine looks like, but you get the idea
  • 8 or 9 small tomatillos, peeled, washed, and re-washed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, de-nibbed
  • 1/2 a large onion
  • 2 Tbsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbps lime juice
  • 1 tsp lime zest
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and diced*
Using a large pan on high heat, dry-roast the tomatillos until they sort of 'burn' on the outside. The same thing can be accomplished if you own a gas stove and you simply roast them over an open flame, but not everybody has that. The key to this is just keeping an eye on it, turning it often. When all sides are blackened, remove the tomatillos and place in a bowl, then cover immediately with plastic wrap as tight as you can stretch it. Set aside either on your countertop or in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

Once the tomatillos have rested, gather your remaining ingredients and your blender. (A food processor or immersion blender is fine, too.) Peel the roasted tomatillos as gently as you can, leaving some of the char on the fruit. Add everything into the blender/food processor and blend on low for 30 seconds, or longer if you like a smoother salsa. It is at this step where you add the jalapeno, if you like an extra bit of spice. I advise, however, that you taste the salsa before adding anything else to it, just to see what the spice level is for you.

Serve in a red bowl (for color) and garnish with cilantro sprigs if desired.