Ingredient Introduction #16 – Tomatillo

I think one of the most underestimated supermarket staples has to be salsa.

It gets written off as an easy centerpiece for a pile of tortilla chips… a bowl of lava you’d expect to see blending into every shindig spread. I mean, restaurants give it away for free, so it can’t be that valuable. Right? WRONG.

Two tablespoons of salsa will cost you about 10 calories. We’re talking very few carbs. So why not use it as salad dressing or a super swap for mayo and ketchup on a sandwich and hotdog?

It’s a killer marinade, too. Try using it to tenderize London broil, skirt, or flank steaks.

I’ve even used it as a starter for chili. Why not? It has all the requirements: tomato, onion, peppers.

And don’t be held up on the hue. Go green, too.

Salsa verde, the technical name, is fantastic. There’s something about it that tastes even more fresh than its red-headed stepsister.

The emerald electricity comes from the tomatillo. Despite its name and appearance, the tomatillo isn’t really a green tomato. The tomato is just its red-headed stepsister, five times removed. Or something like that.

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Any resemblance goes away when you realize the tomatillo comes with its own wrapper, or husk. It’s inedible and actually busts open when the fruit inside reaches maturity.

Tomatillos are closely related to the Cape gooseberry, a marble-sized yellow or orange berry from South Africa that’s sweet and tart.

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You want to go for a firm (I passed up many soft, mushy ones), green tomatillo. You may also find them in orange, yellow and purple, but those tend to be sweeter, and won’t give you the classic color or tartness.

In my batch there was one purplish one. Pretty!

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To use them, pull off the husk. The fruit will be a little sticky, so wash it off.

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I got about six, or just about a pound.

A traditional salsa verde can be made with raw tomatillos, or you can combine them with liquid in a pot, cook them down, and purée,

I wanted to go beyond the good ol’ salsa route and really highlight the tomatillo, so I made a sauce.

Salsa would involve peppers, onions, cilantro, etc.

I went simpler, and avoided peppers. I really wanted to taste the tomatillo. I also chose to grill them to give ’em just a bit of char and smokiness.

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If you don’t have a grill, throw them under the broiler. Okay, don’t throw them. Set them down, and then use tongs. You’ve been warned.

Here’s what you’ll need:
6-7 tomatillos, husks removed and rubbed in olive oil
2-3 tsp hot sauce (I use Cholula)
1 lime zested
1 tsp ground cumin
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 small slice of red onion rubbed in olive oil
Salt

Grill the tomatillos on the top rack of the grill for about 15 minutes. Turn them every few minutes. They’ll soften and break down.

Also grill the slice of red onion until it softens.

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pulse until the mixture is relatively smooth. Add salt to taste.

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For the meal you’ll need:
1 package of chicken tenderloins
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Ground cumin
Salt/pepper
Olive oil
2 limes (1 zested, both juiced)
Red onion, sliced
Sweet or bell peppers, halved
2 ears of corn, husked and de-silken
1 package of Uncle Ben’s brown ready rice
1 can of black beans, drained & rinsed

I rubbed the chicken tenders with olive oil, sprinkled them with juice from half a lime, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and chili powder, then grilled them. I also grilled the rest (1 small slice went to the sauce) of the red onion, sweet peppers, and corn on the cob (all rubbed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper). Cut the kernels off the grilled cobs, and dice all the veggies. Mix with the drained black beans.

Bring the rice to life by adding in the zest of a lime and the juice of 1 1/2 limes, plus a little salt.

To serve, make a bed of rice, then top with with the veggie/bean mixture, the tenders, and a good helping of the tomatillo sauce. Be sure to put some dots of sauce on the outskirts of the plate.

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EVERY layer of this dish had flavor, and yet the process and ingredients were minimal. Like salsa, don’t underestimate the power of a grilled vegetable. The charring brings out natural sweetness.

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The colors were vibrant. It was like a piñata or a burst of confetti.

This was the definition of fresh. The sauce was bright, clean, and refreshing. There’s a natural zing to it thanks to the tart tomatillo. I didn’t add lime juice and instead opted for zest, because I wanted the citrus flavor, but not the watery consistency the juice might cause. The cumin compliments the smokiness from the grill. You can add more hot sauce if you want a bigger kick. If you like cilantro (tastes like soap to me), add it.

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I loved that the sauce was still warm (another perk of grilling the tomatillos). While cold tomatillo salsa would be great with this dish, the warm sauce tied together this perfect package.

I’m a HUGE fan of the tomatillo now. I see salsas in my future. Can you imagine tomatillos blended with roasted poblanos, green chiles, even avocado? How about tomatillo guacamole?? I’m drooling.

Go ahead. Add tomatillos to your shopping list. I’ll wait. Or, at the very least grab a jar of salsa verde. You will love it.

Tip: When grilling something juicy, like a tomatillo, set it on the small upper rack on your grill and put your meat under it. The juices will drip down and flavor the meat. The bowels of your grill won’t appreciate that liquid gold. I promise.

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