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A hint of Mexico: Grow tomatillos, create a tasty chile verde
This simple salsa verde is an easy recipe and makes a great holiday appetizer when served with tortilla chips. The spiciness is easy to change in order to suit your family's tastes.
Fresh Salsa Verde
1 pound tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and halved (about 10)
1 Anaheim chile, stem cut off, cut in half length-wise (or 1 serrano chile, seeded, for a hotter version)
1 small onion cut in thick slices
2 cloves garlic
½ cup packed cilantro leaves
1-2 teaspoons beef bouillon juice from 1 Mexican lime
Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place cut tomatillos and chile halves, skin side up, on top of the foil. Place onion slices on foil. Broil vegetables until skins begin to blacken. Remove cookie sheet from oven and put charred vegetables into food processor, along with remaining ingredients, and puree. Taste salsa to see if more bouillon or lime juice is needed. Salsa can be thinned with a bit of water if too thick. Store in refrigerator. Caution: Don't touch your eyes when working with chiles.
Serve with flour tortillas.
Maria's Carne con Chile Verde
1 pound tomatillos, cut in quarters
1 serrano chile (remove seeds for less spicy flavor) chopped
1 cup water
2 cloves garlic, juice of 1 Mexican lime, 1-2 teaspoons beef bouillon, 1 onion halved, ½ cup cilantro chopped
2 pounds beef, cubed, any cut is fine
In large cooking pot, place tomatillos, chile and water.
Cook tomatillos and chile until they are soft. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
Pour tomatillo mixture into blender, add rest of ingredients except beef, and puree.
Place cubed beef in pot used to cook tomatillos and chile. Pour salsa verde over meat.
Simmer, covered, until meat is tender. Add more water, if necessary, during cooking.
When done, taste and add more beef bouillon or salt, if needed.
During the Christmas holidays, it's always fun to take out-of-town guests to one of our local Mexican restaurants for some authentic cuisine.
Many dishes have either a red or green chile sauce to add special flavor. An essential ingredient in green chile sauce, chile verde, is the tomatillo, Physalis ixocarpa. Though its spelling resembles that of “tomato,” it is not a tomato and is pronounced toe-muh-TEE-yo. Its name means “little tomato” in Spanish, and it is just one of nearly 100 Physalis species. This group of plants has fruit that are enclosed in a papery calyx, or husk. They are often called “Chinese lantern plants” because of this unusual outer covering.
The tomatillo belongs to the nightshade family, which includes the tomato, eggplant, pepper and potato. Native to Mexico, the Caribbean and South America, it can be purchased in most Yuma grocery stores. It's interesting to note that the tomatillo is as old as the Aztecs (11th-15th century A.D.) and has retained its popularity with cooks down through the centuries. First introduced to India in the 1950s, it remains very popular and is often made into chutney.
Unless you are familiar with this interesting fruit, it can look a bit foreign sitting in the grocery store wrapped in its green, papery husk. Beneath the husk is a fruit that resembles a small, green tomato; but unlike a tomato, a tomatillo is usually eaten while still green and hard. Its lemony, tart flavor adds a distinctive flavor to fresh salsa verde or when pureed with other ingredients and made into a green sauce.
When buying tomatillos, choose ones with fresh-looking husks that are not dried out. To use, remove the husk under warm water and wash off the waxy coating from the skin of each fruit. Once washed, they are ready to be eaten raw, cooked in boiling water, or charred for a roasted flavor. Whole tomatillos can be stored in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or in a zip-close bag in the freezer for up to six months. Don't store fresh tomatillos in a plastic bag as this causes them to rot quickly.
Just like tomatoes, tomatillos can be grown in your garden or in large pots. Transplants can be planted from February to March, while tomatillo seeds can be started indoors in a warm, well-lit area in December or January. Seeds can be ordered online from a variety of sources, such as Seed Savers Exchange (1-563-382-5990, seedsavers.org) and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (1-417-924-8917, rareseeds.com).
Sow seeds 1/4” deep in containers filled with potting soil. Place containers in a south-facing window until seedlings emerge in 10-21 days. Once seedlings are large enough to survive outside and danger of frost is gone, transplant seedlings to a location that receives full sun and has soil that drains well. If you have clay soil, a raised bed is a good idea or plant them in containers.
The tomatillo is a low-growing, sprawling bush plant, usually not more than 2 feet high, and should be planted four feet apart. Grow at least two plants for cross-pollination and fruit. When the tomatillo fills its husk and the husk begins to split open, it is ready to pick.
I think their unique flavor makes tomatillos worth trying in your garden.
Happy Gardening and Feliz Navidad!
Karen Bowen is a master gardener and member of Yuma Garden Club. This column is sponsored by the Federated Garden Clubs of Yuma.