The big experiment in my garden last year was tomatillos. Initially I went around looking for tomatillo plants to put in my garden, but every time I asked about them at a garden center I was regarded as if I had two heads. What is this alien to-mah-taho that you are looking for. Eventually I found a package of seeds and decided to take a whirl at starting at square one.

It was quite a steep learning curve. For the non-gardeners out there I will pass over the gory details – but in the end everything came out all right. Better than all right in fact, because I ended up canning many, many jars of Salsa Verde. It was a fairly painful process finding the best recipe to yield the results I desired – but there were no, true, failures. And as per usual, I ended up modifying to get my own.

A baby Tomatillo in my Garden

One of the most disappointing recipes was the one from the University of New Mexico – I thought that if anyone would get it right it would be them, but it was a no go. The flavor was fine, but the end texture wasn’t particularly salsa like. Imagine taking a super chunky salsa, dumping it into a strainer over your sink and allowing it to drain for about 15 minutes – that is the textural quality of the UNM recipe. While it didn’t fly as a salsa – I did use it to great success as a green chili starter. Chuck a jar of it plus a jar of water or stock into a saucepan (or crockpot) along with a can of beans and meat of your choice and you have some delicious chili.

The UNM recipe was the second one I tried – and it turns out the first one was much more successful. From Married with Dinner this Salsa Verde was much closer to what I was looking for – although I can handle much less heat. So for my third try I went back to this recipe and tinkered with it until I produced something I wanted to eat directly from the jar with a spoon. With apologies to the lovely MWD couple – I like mine better.

All of this left me with jars and jars of Salsa Verde for the “off season” months – their consumption a chore to which I applied my most willing efforts. Hence the subject of this “Using It”.

Taco with Tomatillo Salsa

So very much better than Moe's.

Taco Verde

The husband was out of town, but I still felt like busting out the tortilla press and comal to make my own tortillas – because they are simply that much better than store bought. Starting with leftover, shredded chicken in a small saucepan I stirred in enough Salsa Verde to make it saucy and reheated. While that was coming to temp I made the tortillas and from there it was a simple matter of assembly. Tortilla + chicken verde + cojita cheese + Flashy Trout Back baby Romain from my mother’s garden. Wonderfully delicious with a balanced tangy, salty flavor on a corn tortilla that actually tastes like corn. I know my mother probably thought that the tortilla press I asked for for Christmas was going to go into the pile ‘o gadgets-that-looked-like-fun-but-are-actually-a-pain-in-the-butt-and-will-be-in-my-next-yard-sale, but it didn’t. I have been using and loving it since January.

Salsa Verde (You totally thought I was being a tease, didn’t you?)

The Hardware: see The Canning Thing, a food mill, food processor (or a knife you know), 3 to 4 pint jars, paper bag.

The Software:
3 – 3 1/2 lbs of Tomatillos
1 1/2 C Onions, chopped
1 Aneheim Chilie
1 Poblano Chilie
1 T Chopped Jalepeno
6 cloves Garlic, Minced
2 T Cilantro, finely chopped
1T + 1t Cumin
1t Salt
1/8 C Lime Juice
3/8 C Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat your broiler to High. Peel the husks off of your tomatillos and wash off all of the icky sticky stuff – I use a vegetable brush. Also wash your peppers. Remove their stems and cut the tomatillos in half across the equator, place cut side down on a foil lined cookie sheet. Cut the peppers in half longitudinally and remove stems and seeds, place cut side down on the cookie sheet also – you will most likely need 2 cookie sheets, or do two batches. Whichever floats your boat.

Place under the broiler for about 7 minutes, until they start turning a little bit black/brown on the top. Remove from the roaster and place the chilies into a paper bag or bowl covered with plastic wrap. Drain the liquid from the cookie sheet into a saucepan and dump the tomatillos into a food processor and then chopity chop – don’t puree, but get down to smallish pieces. Dump tomatillios into saucepan. Remove the chilies from the steaming device and remove skin. Chop these puppies up also and put them in the saucepan.

Put everything else except the cilantro into the saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and then pass through a food mill with the big hole setting – do not discard the stuff that won’t go through the mill. Return everything (even the chunkies) to the pot and bring to a simmer, add cilantro and adjust seasonings to taste. The do the canning thing. Leave 1/2 inch headspace and boiling water bath for 15 minutes adjusted for your altitude (here in Atlanta I add another 5 min).

Conclusion:

When I adjusted the seasonings I added some garlic powder and additional lime juice – you can always add more acid to taste, but don’t reduce. Having this in my larder has been a menu changing event. We eat it as frequently as we can, but always keeping an eye on the remaining quantity because we don’t want to run out.

Other uses have included smearing it on the first tortilla into the pan when we make quesadillas, enchiladas and various salsa like applications such as tacos, taco salads and consumption with chips. If you have any other ideas what I can put this on, please let me know!

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If you watch cooking competition shows you will be familiar with the tendency to call any food item constructed in a  (bread/pastry base, something edible, another layer of bread/pastry, something else edible topped of with a third layer of bread/pastry) fashion a “Napoleon”. Any actual resemblance to the food item that originally bore the moniker has been practically eliminated and the pastry/food/pastry/food/pastry format has been co-opted as a technique, with the technique defining the dish as opposed to the constituent elements. Interestingly enough, by this definition, the Big Mac is a Napoleon. But I digress.

I have brought this up because I am calling this dish Tomatillo Gumbo because of how it is served. It is a tasty stew-like mixture served over a bed of rice – just like gumbo. Any further resemblance is non-existent. A second point is that I have absolutely no Texan or Mexican background at all. So in reality this doesn’t have any basis in that cuisine either. One could call it Tex-Mex/New Orleans fusion – but that would imply that I had much familiarity with either cuisine.

I’ll just call it tasty.

Hardware:

Saucepan w/lid and Blender.

The Software:

8 oz Ground Pork
1 lb Tomatillos
1 Small Poblano Pepper
1 Onion
1 Bunch Cilantro
2 t Garlic
1 1/4 t Cumin
Salt, Pepper, Chili Powder, Cayenne & Garlic Powder to taste.
1 t Apple Cider Vinegar (optional)

1) Remove husks from tomatillos and wash the sticky stuff off. Wash poblano and cut top off. Cut poblano in half and remove seeds and ribs, keep 1/2 for some other nefarious purposes and cut the other 1/2 into 1/4’s. Place poblano pieces and tomatillos in large saucepan and just cover with water.

2) Now, I just learned how to cook with tomatillos and I want to share some tips I have learned.

A – They float, so I am not really sure how you are supposed to “cover with water” when the little buggers keep rising to the top. I put enough water into the pot so that they float enough to not touch the bottom.

B – You are supposed to bring them to a boil and then simmer for 2 – 5 minutes or until they change color. This confused me – what color are they going to change to? How will I know? Will they explode? Well, I gotcha back on this one. I took pictures:

Ooooh, magic.

Ooooh, magic.

The one on the left is before the boil and the other is after the mysterious “Color change”. I cook them for 5 minutes and call it done.

3) While the tomatillos are cooking, peel your onion and cut it in half. Take 1/2 and chop coarsely and chop the other 1/2 a normal kind of chop. Also, wash and trim the cilantro. I usually just leave the rubberband/tie thingie on the bunch and cut all of the stems below it off.

3) Remove the tomatillos and pepper from the water and place into your blender, add

1/2 C of the cooking water and push the button a few times until they are busted up.

4) Add the coarsely chopped 1/2 of the onion, 1/2 C of Cilantro, 2 t Garlic and 1 t salt to the blender and really puree the heck out of it. Make sure to take off that center bit on the lid and hold a towel over it or else it might explode.

Really, I am not kidding.

Set the blender aside for later.

5) Sautee the other 1/2 of the onion in some olive oil until it has taken on some color and then remove it from the pan. Put the ground pork into the pan and cook it most the way then return the onions to the pan.

6) Pour sauce into pan and add cumin. Then add a pinch each of chili powder and cayenne. Simmer for 10 minutes and then salt and pepper to taste.

7) At this point realize that you have no idea how you are going to serve this. It isn’t really a taco filling like you thought it was going to be, nor is it exactly a chili that you would want to eat straight out of a bowl. Decide that you need to make rice. Cover the pot with a lid and start making rice.

8 ) After the rice is made reheat the sauce/stew stuff you made. Realize that you have lost a little bit of the brightness that you had and add 1 t of Apple Cider Vinegar. That works! Decide you need more garlic so add some powder and a little more salt and a little more pepper. If you, unlike myself, had the foresight to have the rice at the ready then you could probably skip the AC Vinegar step and simply season to taste.

9) Serve in bowls over rice and garnish with additional fresh cilantro.

Mmm, Green.

Mmm, Green.

My husband and I debated what I should call this. He is from Louisiana and has some definite … opinions … about gumbo. But in the end he agreed that we could call it tasty.