Friday, September 3, 2010

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomatillo

I've been searching for this recipe for a long time.

When I was in kindergarten my family moved from Los Angeles to a rural area in Sonoma. One of the many exciting things about our new home was the enormous garden that my parents grew. They were very serious about doing it right, and spent days (weeks?) clearing out the area of native rocks and building a tall fence to keep out the deer. Organic growing being a priority, green crops were planted in order to put more nutrients in the soil.

Their hard work was rewarded by bountiful cherry tomato plants (I think that some of the plants may have exceeded my small stature at the time), sweet and earthy home-grown carrots, and an abundance of strange sticky green tomatillos.

I remember being perplexed by the tomatillos. They felt weird, smelled funny, and I had no idea what their purpose was. In my memory we never made anything with them, although I'm sure we must have.

Around that time, my family began going to a mexican restaurant in Sonoma that is still one of our favorites: Juanita Juanitas. Every visit there begins with a bin of their delicious crispy salty chips, and a cup of their wonderful tomatillo salsa. I love that salsa. Whenever I visit my parents I crave it. I don't think that I ever made the connection between the salsa and the sticky green fruits from our garden when I was little, but lately I've been wondering if I could find the secret to the transformation.

Well, thanks to my new favorite cookbook, A Platter of Figs, I think I've figured it out. As I suspected it is very simple. Unfortunately, it's just not the same without those chips.
Tomatillo Salsa
Adapted from A Platter of Figs by David Tanis
This is halved from the original version. It made quite a bit of salsa.

1lb Tomatillos (look for small, fresh & firm tomatillos)
1/2 yellow onion (thinly sliced)
1 Garlic cloves (minced)
1-2 jalapeno peppers (depending on how spicy the peppers are and how spicy you want the sauce to be, Sliced)
Salt to taste
1/2 of a large bunch of cilantro (leaves and stems chopped)

Slide the husks off of the tomatillos and detach them by pinching off the stem. Once the tomatillos are prepared, place them, along with the sliced onion, garlic and jalapenos* in a medium sauce pan and cover everything with water. Add 1/2 tablespoon or so of salt, and bring the water to a boil.
Once the water has begun to boil, remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool (I fished all of the ingredients from the water at this point and spread them out on a plate so that they would cool more quickly).
Put the cooled cooked ingredients into a food processor, add the cilantro and whiz it until it is a uniform texture. It should be green, frothy and delicious. Taste it for spiciness and saltiness and adjust as desired. You can add a little bit of the cooking water if you want it thinner.

Scoop it up with chips and spoon it over tacos, burritos, fish, or chicken (or straight into your mouth).
*If you are worried about the spice you can put in part of the jalapeno at this stage and then add more to taste at a later stage.