Salsa with Tomatillos busts the Burrito Rule
My willingness to cook something used to follow what I called the Burrito Rule.
Basically, I wasn't going to make anything that would take a lot of time, cost twice as much, and taste half as good as what I could easily buy in a restaurant or store. And burritos, delicious versions of which are all over the Bay Area for under $5 — my favorite is the Super Vegetarian with black beans from Cancún in the Mission — were the titular example.
Until recently, salsa fell under the Burrito Rule. Lots of chopping, somewhat expensive ingredients, and an abundance of fine local offerings in the supermarket. And then I got these weird little papery green things in my CSA box from Eatwell Farm.
The Potato and I had never seen a tomatillo before, let alone cooked with one. For other ignoramuses like us out there, the tomatillo is not a green variety of tomato. While it is a nightshade and related to the tomato, it is actually a member of the Physalis family, along with the Cape gooseberry and "ground cherry" — which also have papery husks and are high in pectin. (So beware of cooking tomatillos in a sauce and then refrigerating it before use; it will turn to jam.) The tomatillo is native to Mexico and was domesticated by the Aztecs before 800 B.C.; its name is a European bastardization of the Aztec word "tomatl," for something "round and plump."
We husked and cut one. By itself the flavor is mild but distinct, like a cross between a cucumber and an apple. Delightful, but not something to eat by itself, and I had no idea what to do with it. So I went to the Internet. Salsa recipe after salsa recipe, with a few roasted or cooked tomatillo sauces for enchiladas and the odd soup. As it happened, I had a lot of tomatoes on hand that were peaking, cilantro in the crisper, and jalapenos in the freezer (these and Thai chili peppers freeze great), so I decided to suspend the Burrito Rule.
Tomatillo and Heirloom Tomato Salsa
I read several recipes and then just made up this one. Basically, take a red onion, several large ripe tomatoes, a couple of tomatillos (husked), fresh cilantro, garlic, and — depending on your spiciness needs — a jalapeno and/or a chili pepper and a dash or two of Tabasco. Dice the tomatoes. A food processor won't work, I discovered, fortunately on a small test tomato. Some recipes said to seed them, but I didn't bother. Drain the chopped tomatoes in a strainer over a bowl. Use the resulting tomato juice to make a delicious Bloody Mary to smoothe the rest of the chopping.
Husk, wash, and dice the tomatillos, followed by a smaller dice for the onion, garlic, and jalapeno. Chop the cilantro. Mix everything together and salt liberally. If you can, let it sit for an hour for the flavors to come together before diving in, when you will realize that fresh, homemade salsa beats the pants off storebought, and even kicks a few local taquerias' asses. Which may have something to do with $3/pound heirloom tomatoes instead of bulk Romas, but oh well.
Ours lasted two days and just got better and better. We liked it so much that the Potato made another version, roasting and pureeing the tomatillos this time, for a picnic we went to. That one was also good, with a nice smoky flavor.
I have retired the Burrito Rule.
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