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Old 11-10-2003, 12:43 AM
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Default 10 Things to do with Tomatillos

Published in the Fresno Bee: 9/17/2003

10 things to do with Tomatillos

They look a lot like their cousin, the tomato. But tomatillos have their
own culinary history and their own inimitable taste.
By Cathy Thomas
The Orange County Register

At first glance, tomatillos might look like festive paper lanterns, ready
to be strung with lights for an outdoor gala. But beneath the party dress
-- that almost-sheer, brown-green husk that's veined like a congested city
road map -- lies a fruit packed with endless culinary potential.
A pale globe that looks like a tiny green tomato is the prize inside, and
in fact, tomatillo is Spanish for "small tomato."

But it isn't a tomato. A member of the nightshade family, it's related to
tomatoes, along with ground cherries and cape gooseberries.

Tomatillos have a wake-up taste, like apples drizzled with lemon juice,
but with a pleasing, herblike edge. They're vibrant, addictive. Foods that
taste good with a squeeze of lime or lemon taste incredible teamed with

In mainstream supermarket chains, they range in size from unshelled
walnuts to golf balls. Latin American markets sometimes offer other
varieties, stocking a smaller, purple-blushed beauty called morado. It has
an appealing herbal fragrance.

There's also the tiny marble-sized miltomate, with an intense,
sweet-and-tart taste and a gentle spiciness.

Although they can be eaten raw, tomatillos usually are cooked (either by
grilling, roasting or blanching), then often incorporated into salsa

One of the must-have basics in Mexican cuisine, salsa verde combines
cooked tomatillos with ingredients such as diced white onion, cilantro and
chilies. Some like to soften the salsa's tartness with a little honey or
sugar. It's used in everything from dip for tortilla chips to quesadillas,
guacamole with gusto, or tortilla soup with attitude.

"I make tomatillo salsa in a huge pot," says Richard Sandoval, cookbook
author of "Modern Mexican Flavors" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $35) as well
as owner and founding chef of Mexican-themed restaurants in New York,
Denver and San Francisco.

"Tomatillo salsa has nice acidity; it's citrus-y. It makes seafood taste
sweet, and it's great in ceviche. With cheese, that acidity cuts the
heaviness, gives a nice contrast and a lightness. With a tortilla, topped
with black-bean puree and queso fresco, well, tomatillo salsa is great
anytime, 6 a.m. to midnight."

Here are 10 things to make with tomatillos. Most use them in the form of
salsa verde. You can use prepared salsa verde, sold in jars in most
supermarkets. Doctor it up with some diced white onion and a little
chopped cilantro, if you wish. Or make a delectable from-scratch salsa
verde (see recipe).

1. No-snore salad dressing: In a blender, combine 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/4
cup salsa verde and a dash of seasoned salt. Whirl about 10 seconds or
until blended. Toss with mixed lettuce and cherry tomatoes, adding enough
dressing to lightly coat leaves. If desired, top salad with crumbled queso
fresco (often labeled ranchero) or shredded jack cheese. Season with
freshly ground black pepper.

2. Spirited soup: Add salsa verde (to taste) to your favorite chicken soup
(either homemade or store-bought), such as chicken vegetable or chicken
with rice. Top servings with a dollop of sour cream, a little chopped
cilantro (if you like it) and some crumbled tortilla chips.

3. Pasta with tomatillos, tomatoes and green olives: While you bring a big
pot of salted water to a boil over high heat (to cook 1 pound pasta, any
shape), place 2 tablespoons olive oil in medium skillet over medium-high

Add 1/2 medium onion (chopped) and 1 jalapeño chili (seeded, minced); cook
2 minutes. Add 6 medium tomatillos (husked, diced), 6 Roma tomatoes
(diced) and 2 sprigs fresh oregano (chopped); cook 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup
water and simmer until tomatoes soften and most of the water is gone,
about 4 minutes.

Stir in 12 pitted green olives (coarsely chopped), 1 tablespoon olive oil,
plus salt and pepper to taste; set aside. Cook and drain pasta. Toss with
sauce. (Adapted from "While The Pasta Cooks," by Andrew Schloss,
Macmillan, $22.)

4. Guac talk: Salsa verde perks up guacamole in an irresistible way; the
citruslike flavor complements the creamy richness of avocado. In a medium
bowl, combine 1/2 cup salsa verde with 2 ripe avocados (pitted, peeled).

Mash with fork until incorporated but still chunky. Taste and add salt,
pepper and hot sauce as needed. If desired, stir in 2-3 tablespoons
chopped cilantro and 2-3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion. Serve with
sturdy tortilla chips.

5. Green rice: Tomatillos give the rather neutral taste of rice a vibrant
flavor edge. In a bowl or glass measuring cup, combine 1/2 cup salsa
verde, 11/2 cups water or chicken broth, pinch salt and 3 green onions
(sliced, including some of the dark-green stalks); set aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon of Canola oil and 1 teaspoon of butter in a medium
saucepan on medium-high heat.

Add 2 cloves garlic (minced) and cook 30 seconds. Add 1 cup long-grained
rice; cook and stir occasionally, until rice is lightly browned.

Add salsa verde mixture and bring to a boil; immediately reduce heat to
low, cover and cook 18 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. If
desired, stir in 1/4 cup chopped cilantro.

6. Tomato and queso fresco quesadillas: Easy to make, these delectable
warm "tortilla sandwiches" can include a variety of fillings. Try a
mixture of Mexican cheese (such as queso fresco), diced ham, sliced Roma
tomatoes, chopped cilantro and green onion slices placed between two flour

Grill in a mixture of 1 teaspoon butter and 1 teaspoon Canola oil until
they're toasty brown on both sides. After they are cooked, top them with
the key ingredient: salsa verde.

7. Chilaquiles: This Mexican entree originally was invented to use up
leftovers (such as chicken, tortilla chips and cheese), but chef Richard
Sandoval's isn't the typical "casserolelike" version.

Instead he tosses thick tortilla chips with warm tomatillo sauce lightly
sweetened with honey. Slices of grilled chicken breast are served next to
the luscious tomatillo-chip mixture (see recipe).

8. Grilled "whatever" with mango-tango salsa: Grilled fish, chicken or
pork tastes incredible topped with a mango-enriched salsa verde. To 1 cup
salsa verde, add 1 large mango (seeded, diced).

Taste salsa and add more chopped cilantro or minced fresh chili to suit
your taste. Spoon salsa over grilled "whatever."

9. Fried egg with elation: Break an egg into a cup. On one side of a large
nonstick skillet, heat a corn tortilla over medium-high heat. Place 1
teaspoon butter or Canola oil on opposite side. When butter melts (or oil
heats), spread on half of skillet using a paper towel or rubber spatula.
Invert cup over oil or butter to drop egg into pan.

Cook egg until desired degree of doneness is reached, turning if desired.
Place warm tortilla on plate. Top with egg and about 2 tablespoons salsa
verde. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

10. Salsa-fied Mayo: Stir 1 cup mayonnaise with 1/4 cup salsa verde and 2
green onions (trimmed, minced, including some of dark-green stalks). Use
in place of plain mayonnaise in tuna or salmon salad.


Selection and storage: Tomatillos fill their husks when they are mature,
so look for those with dry, tight-fitting husks. They keep for up to three
weeks in the refrigerator, loosely stored in the vegetable bin.

Preparation: Peel off the husks and rinse off the sticky coating, wiping
(if necessary) with paper towels.

Uses: Raw, tomatillos have the texture of kiwi. Cooked, they're as soft as
grilled eggplant.

Salsa Verde

1/2 pound (5-6 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 fresh green serrano chilies, stems removed
5-6 sprigs fresh cilantro (long stems removed), roughly chopped
1/4 cup water
Scant 1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
1/4 teaspoon salt

Adjust oven rack to 4-5 inches below broiler element. Preheat broiler.

Place tomatillos and chilies in single layer on baking sheet with sides.
Broil until darkly roasted, blackened in spots, about 5 minutes. Turn over
and roast other side, 4-5 minutes more, to yield splotchy-black, blistered
tomatillos and chilies that are soft and cooked through.

Cool and transfer roasted chilies and tomatillos to blender, including
juices that have run onto baking sheet. Add cilantro and 1/4 cup water;
blend to coarse puree.

Rinse onion under cold water, then shake to remove excess moisture. Stir
into salsa and season with about 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Makes 1 cup

-- From "Mexico One Plate at a Time" by Rick Bayless (Scribner, $35)

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