You know how eight year olds run around the candy store, darting from the gummy worm bin to the watermelon taffy then back to the peanut fudge? That is me when I visit the farmer’s market…minus the sugar high.
Each week, I make my pilgrimage to the Union Square Green Market. Wednesdays are my favorite. The stalls are sparse on Mondays, and Saturdays get crowded. During my last trip, dainty bulbs caught my eye. They looked like the chinese lantern flowers my mother displays on her coffee table, but they were green instead of orange. “Toh-muh-tee-oh.” I mouthed the name printed on the sign. I had tomatillos as a dish component in restaurants, but always figured they were just like tomatoes with a fancy name. Intrigued, I bought a handful to try out at home. At the very least, they would make beautiful photography subjects!
Once I arrived home, I did some research. The tomatillo is available year-round and is also called Mexican ground cherry. Its sour note provides a tart flavor in many Mexican green sauces and pairs well with bright cilantro, creamy avocado, corn, chile peppers, fish, chicken and pork. This makes sense as those ingredients work well with lemon zest or juice, which are also tart.
The flavor that the tomatillo brings to a dish depends on how it is prepared. Raw tomatillos add a fresh citrus-like flavor while dry roasting them produces an earthy, nutty flavor. I found multiple recipes and decided to make a salsa verde, which showcases the tomatillo center stage.
I would have thought that salsa verde would use tomatillos in their raw form. However, the recipes I found instructed to boil or dry roast the tomatillos. Which one to try? It looked like I needed to perform a taste test. As an added benefit I would be able to figure out other ways I could take advantage of the tomatillo to round out other dishes, or be prepared if faced with this ingredient on the Iron Chef or Chopped!
I tasted the tomatillos three ways: raw, boiled and dry roasted. The photo below shows them in that order from left to right. The raw tomatillo had a pronounced sour, citrus flavor and a watermelon texture. I could definitely use this to brighten up a salad or include a few slivers to add contrasting texture to a soft, creamy dessert. The boiled tomatillo was downright disgusting. It was a bland version of the raw tomatillo, with a hint of unpleasant fishiness. I do not think I will be using this in my future recipes. The roasted tomatillo was more complex. It had a mellow citrus flavor, without being sour. It was nutty, smokey and had a sweet finish.
The verdict was in, the roasted tomatillo salsa was the way to go. I paired it with pan roasted cod, but it is also delicious with simple tortilla chips, or in a chicken or grilled fish taco. Overall I am delighted with my farmer’s market find, and now have a gorgeous background for my screen to boot!
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
Makes 1 1/2 cups
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
4 medium (about 8 ounces total) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and halved
Hot green chiles to taste (I like 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed and roughly chopped
About 1/3 cup (loosely packed) roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
Set a large (10-inch) non-stick skillet over medium-high heat (if you don’t have a non-stick skillet, 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 chiles, cilantro and 1/4 cup water. Blend to a course 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 1/2 teaspoon.
by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless