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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Little Tomatoes

You've heard about our tomatoes and ground cherries from our garden.  Now let's talk about their relative, the tomatillo (literally "little tomato").

Tomatillos, like their relatives, are at the peak of their season right now.  You'll find these natives of Mexico in many farmers' markets--both the green and purple varieties.  They have a sort of sweet and sour flavor and are full of Vitamin C, potassium and fiber.

When choosing a tomatillo, look for a nice green or yellow-green color.  Smaller ones are often sweeter than larger ones, but both are fine to use.  They should be firm and the husk should be a light brown color--not shriveled and dry.  Once you get them home, remove the husks and store them in a plastic bag in the fridge.  They'll last for about 3 weeks that way.

Tomatillos can be eaten raw--they have a tangy citrus-like flavor--or cooked, which mellows the flavor.  Here's a delicious green salsa from Mexican food guru, Rick Bayless.  It's a little involved, but worth it.  It's spicy and tangy--great to eat with chips or as a braising agent for pork or chicken. 

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa with Serranos, Roasted Onions and Cilantro (makes 2 cups)

1 pound (about 7 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
4-5 fresh serrano chiles, stemmed (you can use other fresh chiles as well)
1 small white onion, sliced 1/4" thick
3 garlic cloves, peeled
About 1/2 cup water
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, loosely packed
About 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • Heat the broiler.  Lay the whole tomatillos and serranos on a broiler pan or baking sheet.  Set the pan 4 inches below the broiler and let roast until the tomatillos are softened and splotchy black in places (the skins will split), about 5 minutes; your goal is to cook the tomatillos through while they roast, which means they'll change from light bright green to olive green on the top side.  With a pair of tongs, flip over the tomatillos and chiles and roast the other side for another 4-5 minutes or so.  Set aside to cool.
  • Turn the oven down to 425 degrees.  Separate the onion into rings and, on a similar pan or baking sheet, combine them with the garlic.  Place in the oven.  Stir carefully every couple of minutes, until the onions are beautifully browned.  (They're going to look wilted and translucent, even have a touch of char on some of the edges.)  The garlic should feel soft and be browned in spots.  The total roasting time will be about 15 minutes.  Cool to room temperature.
  • In a food processor, place the onion-garlic mixture and the serranos, and pulse until moderately finely chopped, scraping everything down with a spatula as needed to keep it all moving.  Scoop the mixture into a large bowl.  Without washing the processor, coarsely puree the tomatillos with their juice--no need to peel off their darkened skin or cut out their cores.  Stir them into the chiles.  Stir in enough water to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency.  Stir in the cilantro.
  • Taste and season highly with salt.  Taste again and, if you like, add just enough sugar to take the edge off the bright tanginess of the tomatillos.  The salsa is ready to use or store in the fridge, covered, and use within 5 days.

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