Advertisement

Archive for Wednesday, August 11, 1999

TOMATILLOS BRING AUTHENTIC FLAVOR

August 11, 1999

Advertisement

There's an underground of Mexican food devotees in Lawrence who cook with authentic ingredients. All I have to do to elicit a response is to mention the herb epazote in a column and I'll get letters and e-mail from people who want the name of my source. My answer is always the same: Grow your own.

That's my advice, too, for people who like the fruity flavor of tomatillos. Although canned tomatillos are available in supermarkets, they are, well, canned and have suffered the loss of all those properties of freshness and flavor that we appreciate in our summer vegetables.

On extremely rare occasions I have seen fresh tomatillos in supermarket produce sections, however the only remotely reliable source is your own plants. That tomatillos are gaining in popularity is apparent from the fact that at least one local greenhouse stocked tomatillo seedlings this spring.

Tomatillos are easier to grow than tomatoes because they succumb to fewer diseases and pests and tend to care less about water. If you have tomatillos one year, you'll have them the next, too, since they volunteer eagerly from fruit dropped on the ground. They also tend to keep longer in the refrigerator than tomatoes.

Most people know tomatillos as the foundation for salsa verde, although they are more versatile than that. Unroasted or uncooked, tomatillos have a tangy, almost citrusy taste. Heat mellows their flavor and turns them a bit sweet.

The greener the fruit, the sharper the flavor. Tomatillos are ripe when they fill out their paper husks and begin to turn yellow. At this point they slip off the vine with only a slight tug. As tomatillos ripen, the stickiness between the fruit and the husk begins to diminish but they still should be washed thoroughly before using in a recipe.

One of the few U.S.-published Mexican cookbooks I've found that gives tomatillos their due is "Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen" (Scribner, $35). Bayless uses several "essential" sauces and salsas throughout his cuisine and two of them call for tomatillos. Following are the recipes for his tomatillo salsa and a quick chicken and pasta dish that uses it.

Roasted tomatillo-serrano salsa

1 pound (10 to 12 medium) tomatillos

Fresh serrano chilies to taste, as many as 5

2 large garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 small white onion, finely chopped

¤ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped and loosely packed

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar, if needed

Lay the tomatillos on a baking sheet and place below a very hot broiler. When the tomatillos blister, blacken and soften on one side, about 5 minutes, turn them over and roast the other side. Cool completely on the baking sheet.

Roast the chilies and garlic on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots and soft, 5 to 10 minutes for the chilies, about 15 minutes for the garlic. Cool, then pull the stems from the chilies and peel the garlic.

Scrape the roasted tomatillos (and any juices that have accumulated around them) into a food processor or blender, along with the roasted chilies and garlic. Pulse the machine until everything is reduced to a rather coarse-textured puree.

Scrape the salsa into a bowl, then stir in ¤ to h serrano chilies to taste, as many as 5

2 large garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 small white onion, finely chopped

¤ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped and loosely packed

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar, if needed

Lay the tomatillos on a baking sheet and place below a very hot broiler. When the tomatillos blister, blacken and soften on one side, about 5 minutes, turn them over and roast the other side. Cool completely on the baking sheet.

Roast the chilies and garlic on an ungreased griddle or heavy skillet over medium heat, turning occasionally, until blackened in spots and soft, 5 to 10 minutes for the chilies, about 15 minutes for owned and barely done, then remove with a slotted spoon. Add the spinach to the pan along with the salsa. Stir until the spinach is wilted. Salt to taste. Serve over pasta, sprinkled with cheese.

-- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. You can send e-mail to her at mellinger@harvey.bakeru.edu. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.