My first taste of green salsa was at a now long-gone New York City restaurant. The food there was good, the salsa amazing. I use to buy that green stuff by the pint and bring it home.
The core ingredient in green salsa is the tomatillo. Often referred to as green tomatoes or Mexican tomatoes, the tomatillo is not a green tomato. It’s only distantly related to red tomatoes. Now available year round in the produce section of your market, they come with a distinctive leafy husk and vary in size. Eight medium size tomatillos should tip the scale at about one pound.
And they come canned, both whole and crushed.
All of which means, that tomatillo salsa can be created in many variations. I just went through a dozen Mexican cookbooks and found 20 very different recipes. All the recipes use tomatillos, some garlic, and some cilantro. After that the fun begins. Recipes call for adding different chiles, sugars, juices and spices. The proportions used for, say, onions vary from 2 tablespoons to one full onion.
With that variety, you can generate an entire family of green salsas. Here’s the big dividing point: what do you do with the the tomatillos? Use them raw, cook them, or open a can? Everything ends up in a blender anyway, but the different methods do yield distinctive flavors.
This first recipe, from the wonderful book Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless, is the easiest. Raw tomatillos, garlic and cilantro plus some chili heat are put in a blender and voila. You’re soon done.
This salsa is surely the freshest. You can refrigerate and use it for several days. One thing you need to know about tomatillos, as you pull of the husk, your fingers will feel sticky. Tomatillos are rich in pectin. This Bayless recipe is absolutely thin when it comes out of the blender. After a day in refrigerator, the pectin has kicked in and you have a paste, not a salsa. Just mix in some water, whisk, and you can restore the salsa to any consistency you desire.
As for that long-gone Mexican restaurant where I used to buy salsa, I worried about what would happen if it ever closed. I experimented and came up with my own version which is a pretty good match. Later this week, I’ll give you that tasty, easy recipe using canned tomatillos.
But first, let’s start raw and simple. Find that bag of chips, open a Mexican beer, and enjoy.
Fresh Tomatillo Salsa
Yield: 1 ½ cups
4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and quartered
1 large garlic clove
2 serrano or 1 jalapeno chile, stemmed and roughly chopped [more or less heat to suit you]
2/3 cup, loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro
Place the tomatillos, garlic, chiles and cilantro in a blender or food processor. And ¼ cup water and a generous ½ teaspoon salt. Process to a coarse puree. Pulse if necessary to first process the tomatillos. Add small amount of additional water if necessary.
Source: Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless