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In praise of tomatillos

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Posted: Monday, September 9, 2013 4:52 pm

Like everyone else with a garden this year, we are blessed with an overabundance of fresh produce. This means giving away Armenian cucumbers, zucchini, and tomatillos. Curiously, no one seems to know what to do with the tomatillos.

If nothing else, they can be husked, washed and placed raw into ziplock-type freezer bags (labeled and dated, of course). When they are needed, they are perfect for making Mexican-type sauces in the winter, when they are especially appreciated.

On the off chance that you know someone with tomatillos in their garden or have always wondered what they are good for, I offer the following tasty variations on salsa verde. One is a fresh version, perfect for dipping tortilla chips. The other, a cooked sauce, works especially well as the base for Chilequiles-an excellent dish for busy nights or tasty breakfast served with eggs scrambled with real Mexican chorizo.

This cooked version is based upon (I tweak it depending on what flavors I want to dominate) one found in ‘Mexican’; a publication of Williams-Sonoma.

Salsa Verde (Cooked)

12 tomatillos, husked and rinsed

4 fresh chiles (heat range your choice)

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 onion, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon oil (I use olive)

Sea salt

8 cups thick tortilla chips

1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro

1 cup Mexican crema or sour cream

1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco or mild feta cheese

Put the tomatillos in a saucepan and add water to barely cover. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until tomatillos begin to soften. Add the chiles and garlic and continue cooking until the tomatillos are soft, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatillos, chiles and garlic to a food processor; reserve the cooking liquid. Add the chopped onion and 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and pulse on and off until mixture is well blended with some texture.

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering but not smoking. Pour in the tomatillo mixture all at once and stir. Stir in another 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking liquid, along with 1/2 teaspoon salt, reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Add more liquid if necessary.

Just before serving, carefully stir tortilla chips and cilantro into the hot sauce and continue cooking until chips are softened but not mushy, about five minutes. Adjust salt, if necessary.

Scoop the mixture into a warmed serving dish or onto warmed individual plates. To garnish, spoon on the crema and scatter the cheese, along with a few thinly sliced onion rings. Serve at once. Makes 4 Servings.

Note: This sauce freezes well without tortilla chips for later use with enchiladas, etc. Measure, pack into labeled and dated ziplock-type freezer bag. Can be doubled or tripled.

Green salsa (fresh)

1/4 onion, cut into chunks

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and cut into chunks

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved

Handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped

8 -10 tomatillos, husked, washed and quartered

Juice of 1 lime

Sea salt, to taste

Place first five ingredients (or process in batches if necessary) in workbowl of food processor. Pulse on and off until mixture is very finely chopped but not pureed. Transfer to serving bowl and add lime juice and salt. Serve at once with tortilla chips or chill until needed. Keeps approximately 2-3 days refrigerated. Can also be used as a table salsa.

Lori Bowles was raised in Southern California. She is currently serving on the board of directors as the advertising and publicity chair for the Lodi Bowmen Inc. She lives in Lodi with her husband Jeff and has three children and five grandchildren. She enjoys cooking, reading about cooking and reading about cooking while eating.

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