It started with these tomatillos. Well actually, it started before the tomatillos: it started with this blog post. Or you could say it started even before that; all summer I’ve been keeping an eye out for tomatillos, with no luck whatsoever. I’m sure once, years ago, I saw them at Moore Wilson’s, but whether I missed them this year or they weren’t there I’ll never know. Anyway, I’ve been hanging out for a good salsa verde, the Mexican kind, with tomatillos and jalapeños and coriander. The kind that came standard with a bowl of complimentary, freshly fried tortilla chips at the late-night taco shops I used to frequent as a teenager in suburban Chicago (which were way better than I just made them sound, by the way).
So when Sue blogged about her tomatillos over at Five Course Garden, one thing led to another and I ended up having a cup of tea and a chat in her hot-cross-bun-scented kitchen last Saturday afternoon, and left with a bag full of tomatillos (as well as parsley and sorrel that went into another kind of salsa verde altogether, and a wee passionfruit) she kindly donated to my tomatillo-deprived kitchen.
They sat in a bowl in my kitchen till Monday (poor Easter planning on my part meant I had no corn tortillas at home) but then I did what I had to do: cut up some tortillas, fried into chips, sprinkled with a bit of salt, drained on paper towels. Tomatillos, jalapeños, roasted till juicy and blistery, dumped in a blender with coriander, garlic, onion, salt, a bit of water; blended till smooth and the sharp, familiar scent of tomatillos filled the air. Thinned out with a bit more water, just enough so that it was reminiscent of the salsa verde at my favourite Chicago taqueria, snuck a taste, let sit for a bit to let the flavours meld. Got way too excited and started eating all the chips dipped in the almost-too-hot salsa: bliss. I only stopped myself because I remembered the whole reason why I made chips in the first place was to try this recipe for chilaquiles verdes.*
Rather than baking them in the oven I ended up using the technique from this recipe (for chilaquiles rojos), where the chips are tossed in a pan of bubbling sauce and cooked till just soft. Once I had all the components ready it only took a few minutes to put together, simmering the fresh chips (there aren’t many snack foods better than freshly made tortilla chips) into the bubbling green sauce rounded out with sour cream and chicken stock, slopping the whole thing on a plate, topping with chicken and cheese and sour cream and more salsa. It took even less time to devour.
I wasn’t sad then, because I still had plenty of salsa left. But by the following night it was all gone – used up for the best enchiladas verdes I’ve ever made – and I had that twinge of guilty longing you get when you’re enjoying something with no guarantee you’ll have it again, at least for a long time. Bittersweet, like the last meal on an overseas holiday. I wanted every bite to last forever. I also wanted more salsa to magically appear so I could make more chilaquiles. Oh well. Maybe next year.
So. If you’re lucky enough to have a good source of tomatillos**, make this before the season’s over for the year. Otherwise I’d suggest planting some next spring (it’s what I’ll be doing, and they seem to grow well here), and then making this salsa. And then: these chilaquiles.
I couldn’t say this enough, but many, many, many thanks to Sue at Five Course Garden for giving me these tomatillos. I was the happiest person in the world eating this.
*Looking through internet recipes, it seems there are as many variations on chilaquiles as there are breeds of dog. Er, that makes it sound like this recipe somehow involves dogs, which I can assure you it does not, but you know. Lots. And I haven’t been to Mexico (though I did grow up in a city with a big Mexican population) so I can’t vouch for authenticity at all. But whatever. These are damn good.
**I’ve seen cans of them in Moore Wilson’s but at $9 a pop they’re not cheap. If you are reading this from a more tomatillo-acquainted area, I am so jealous of you.
ROASTED TOMATILLO SALSA VERDE:
(adapted from this recipe)
Preheat the grill/broiler setting on your oven. Take roughly 500g tomatillos – remove the papery outer husks and rinse (they’re sticky) – and slice in half.* Place on a tinfoil-lined baking tray, cut side up, along with 2-4 jalapeño peppers (depending on how spicy you want the end product).** Pop this in the oven right on the top rack; cook for a few minutes until the tomatillos are soft and almost-burnt and the jalapeños are charred (don’t worry, you’ll be peeling off the charred skin). Peel the jalapeños and remove the seeds if you prefer a milder salsa. Put the tomatillos, jalapeños, a big handful of coriander, 1/2 a chopped onion, and 2 cloves garlic into a blender. Add about 1/4 cup water and a bit of salt in there as well, and purée until it reaches a sauce-like texture.*** Add more water if you want a thinner salsa; season with salt, let chill for at least 30 minutes so the flavours have a chance to mingle a bit.
This recipe makes quite a bit – it says 2 cups but I swear I got at least 2 1/2, maybe closer to 3.
*I don’t know why I did this instead of leaving the tomatillos whole. Maybe so they’d cook faster. Anyway, you can skip this if you want, but you may need to leave them in the oven a bit longer.
**I used 4, and left the seeds in; the salsa had a big roundhouse-kick heat to it but wasn’t too bad for my tastes. I like spicy food, though, so if you’re not big on chillies you may want to use less, or add them to the blender one at a time.
***you can make this smoother or chunkier depending on your preference.
HOMEMADE TORTILLA CHIPS:
This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a method: cut corn tortillas into triangles, fry in a bit of hot oil till golden, drain on paper towels. Sprinkle some salt on them while they’re still hot. Eat as soon as they’re cool enough to handle. Save some for the chilaquiles.
Heat a bit of oil in a skillet; when hot, add roughly 1 to 1 1/2 cups salsa verde. Give it a good stir while you let it heat up so that it’s nice and bubbly, then stir in 1 cup chicken stock and 1/4 cup sour cream. Taste and adjust seasoning as you see fit, then bring back to the boil. Add roughly 120g tortilla chips (I didn’t weigh mine. You could easily just eyeball it depending on how much you think you’ll eat) and simmer for about 5 minutes until just soft. To serve, top with warmed shredded chicken (leftover roast chicken would do perfectly)*, cheese (I used a bit of crumbled feta and goat’s cheese), sour cream and a bit more salsa. Eat with a fork – these are messy in the best possible way.
*I didn’t have any leftover roast chicken. Unless you’ve had a roast the night before you may not either. So what I did was poach a chicken leg in a little pot of water along with bay leaves, a cinnamon stick, a spoonful of cumin and a couple sprigs of oregano. Once the chicken was cooked, I pulled the meat off the bones with a couple of forks and kept the poaching liquid to use for the stock called for in the recipe. Also, you could just as easily make these vegetarian by omitting the chicken and using vegetable stock, if you’re so inclined.