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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tomatillos and Two All-Weather Salads

    Tangy Tomatillo and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad        Photograph by Zachary Popovsky

Tomatillos and Two All-Weather Salads
by Victoria Challancin

I feel almost guilty posting not one but two salad dishes while my northern neighbors are suffering from such extreme cold.  But we all need salads...all year round...and these two slightly different recipes are year-rounders, good any time.  

The first salad makes good use of Mexico's beloved tomatillo, or tomate verde, as it is called here in Mexico.  While the tomatillo is often roasted on a comal, a round griddle used on the stove or over an open fire, or even boiled, here it is used in its raw form, with bright, tangy results.

In the original recipe for the second salad, the romaine hearts are brushed with olive oil, then roasted in the oven until browned in spots, perfect for as a base for a cold-weather salad; however, because our weather is mild right now--and because of ease of preparation,  I served the romaine lettuce uncooked.

Tomatillo and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad

Recipe:  Tangy Tomatillo and Sun-Dried Tomato Salad
(Adapted slightly from a Recipe by Chef Daniel Orr for Food and Wine Magazine)

1 cup loosely packed drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and cut into thin wedges
1 large jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 small bunch purslane, tender stems and leaves only

Pat the sun-dried tomatoes with paper towels and coarsely chop them.

Transfer to a large bowl and add the tomatillos, jalapeño, ginger, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice and toss gently.

Season with salt and pepper and let stand for 15 minutes or for up to 4 hours.  Just before serving, add the cilantro and purslane, if using.

A Few Notes on Tomatillos
Let's blame it on the Spanish Conquistadors, shall we?  Blame them for what this time, you ask? That misnaming of a variety of Aztec-based words that they just might not have understood at the time.  In Nahuatl, that wonderful agglutinated language of the ancient Aztecs, the word tomatl simply referred to any plump fruit with xitomatl referring to regular red tomatoes and miltomatl referring to tomatillos. The Spanish, delighted with their new gastronomic finds,  simply returned with the term tomates, which is what they call red tomatoes in Spain today and with tomatillo, or "little tomato" to refer to tomatillos, the red tomato's little green cousins, or kissing cousins, as we like to say in the South, as they are only distant relatives.

What exactly are tomatillos?  Like tomatoes themselves, they belong to the larger family of Solanaceae or Nightshades, along with potatoes, eggplants, tobacco, mandrake, belladonna (are you seeing a connection with the "Deadly Nightshade" moniker yet?), chiles, and petunias, to name a few.  Breaking the family down a bit more, you find the genus "physalis" which includes gooseberries, ground cherries and tomatillos, all part of the kissing cousins of the Paper Lantern group, called this because some of them have papery cellulose husks which must be removed before eating.

Here in Mexico the names become even more confused.  Unlike the Spanish, Mexicans refer to their own red tomatoes as jitomates and tomatillos as tomates verdes (green tomatoes) or more commonly just tomates.  In all my years of teaching Mexican cooks, over 1000 of them, I have never heard them call this fruit "tomatillos," though they certainly know the word; they always just say "tomates."

While typically found green in markets, still nestled in their papery husks, other varieties also exist. My favorite are the walnut-sized purple ones, which are slightly sweeter and the very tiny green tomates de la milpa, or "tomatillos of the corn field", which are about the size of a blueberry.  When shopping for them, choose firm tomatillos that fill out the husk.  Remove the papery husk and scrub to remove the natural sticky substance beneath the husk before using.

Nutritionally speaking, the tomatillo is a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper, as well as being rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber as well.

Tangy, bright, tart, the tomatillo is a perfect fruit to add a bit of zing to any number of dishes.  The interior of the tomatillo is highly seeded, yet the seeds are not removed as they often are with tomatoes; in fact, you probably can't remove them due to the way they are structured.  Their tart lemony flavor lends itself beautifully to other Mexican ingredients such as avocado.

Too often merely relegated to the making of simple Mexican salsas, the tomatillo can be used in countless other ways.  Here are a few.

Uses for Tomatillos
  • Add them raw, sliced or chopped, to any green salad  (great with raw apples alongside)
  • Brighten raw vegetable soups such as gazpacho with a touch of raw tomatillos
  • Add the cooked or raw to guacamole
  • Use them instead of regular green tomatoes to make the Southern classic Fried Green Tomatoes and serve with a remoulade sauce or a chile-infused aioli
  • Make a Mexican salsa cruda with them (simply chop up about half a pound of cleaned tomatillos with a touch of garlic, hot chiles to taste, salt, and about a half cup of chopped cilantro, or coriander--if using a blender for a smooth sauce, simply add a couple of tablespoons of water).  Serve as a table sauce or condiment.
  • Make a Mexican cooked salsa verde with them (boil a pound of tomatillos, with five or six springs of cilantro, 1 or 2 peeled garlic cloves,  2 green onions, and salt for about five minutes, or until they have an slightly olive color, then puree the drained in a blender with one or two serrano chiles to taste--or broil them on a griddle or in the oven along with the garlic, onion, and chile).  Serve as a table condiment or use as a sauce with or without the addition of sour cream and/or avocado.
  • Make a vinaigrette (use the basic salsa cruda recipe above with the addition of one tablespoon of lime juice and 1/4 cup or more olive oil)
  • Stir fry in a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper, for an easy side dish
  • Add them, finely chopped, to a fruit salsa (kiwi, grape, melon, apple, pear, mango, pineapple)
  • Use them in soup wherever you might use regular red tomatoes
  • Make a tomatillo coulis  (see this recipe from epicurious for an interesting mixture of ingredients)
  • Make this recipe for Tomatillo Gazpacho with Feta-Olive Relish that I gave you in 2011
  • Make this recipe for Mexican Shrimp Cobb Salad with Creamy Cilantro-Tomatillo Dressing that I posted in 2012
  • Try this salsa using tomatillos, avocados, and the sprightly herb pápalo, which I wrote about here 
  • Serve this incredible sweet tomatillo sauce, which uses vanilla and piloncillo (unrefined sugar) over chocolate lava cakes (with chile!)
  • Add them to Ceviche
  • Make your next Bloody Mary with tomatillos
  • Make my recipe for Stacked Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas (a family good, so good, so good) with a creamy tomatillo sauce
  • Add them to an Avocado-Cilantro Mousse, for an added bit of tang
  • Make a sort of Mexican Raita with yogurt, tomatillos, serrano chile, cilantro, and a touch of cumin or cumin seeds
  • Add tomatillos to any bean or meat chilli
   Romaine and Purslane Salad with Pine Nut Vinaigrette                       Photograph by

With not a tomatillo in sight, the following salad, with roasted or raw romaine hearts, is still a winner;

Cook's Notes:  The original recipe calls for roasted romaine lettuce, but I chose to serve it raw instead as a better fit with the menu.  I also substituted Parmigiano-Reggiano for the Manchego.  And I tossed in some purslane for added interest (I wrote about purslane here, where I paired it with an Allspice Vinaigrette).

Recipe:  Romaine and Purslane with Pine Nut Vinaigrette
(Adapted from a Recipe by Chef Pablo Montero for Food and Wine Magazine)
Serves 4

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and minced
1 tablespoon minced kalamata or other black imported olives
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing romaine, if roasting
2 large romaine hearts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Kosher salt
Shaved Pico Melero or Manchego (or Parmigiano-Reggiano) cheese, for serving 
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

Make the vinaigrette:

In a medium bowl, whisk the vinegar with the sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and 1/4 cup olive oil.  

In a mortar, finely crush the toasted pine nuts.  Stir into the vinaigrette and lightly season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Assemble the salad:
Toss the salad with the vinaigrette.  Scatter the salad with the shaved cheese.  Sprinkle with additional flaky sea salt.

Parting Shot:  Christmas Poinsettia 
Thank you, Tom, for our beautiful Christmas flowers

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Please ask permission before using text or photos.  Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Pine nut vinaigrette sounds awesome! I'm making that salad tomorrow, but leaving off the cheese and adding some pomegranate molasses to the vinaigrette.

Eha said...

Glad to be here as for over two hours my computer showed me all else in my mailbox but refused to let me travel to Mexico!! Now I definitely eat salads all year and these two are again just that tad different and will go into my repertoire, No problem with the second one. Living in the country I do not think I have ever been blessed with tomatillos to the best of my recollection, but this post will make me do some homework, especially since you give so many interesting ways for their usage - thank you :) !

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Hehe well as a fellow Southern Hemisphere resident I have to thank you for these salad recipes as they sound perfect for our weather! :D

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Awesome! I will try this salads, and keep sharing this kind of food, I am waiting for your next blog.
comida española


Karen (Back Road Journal) said...

No matter how cold it is outside, I still enjoy a salad during the winter. Both of your recipes sound good. Your tomatillo salad sounds especially interesting.

Hotly Spiced said...

Two great salads and an interesting story too. I try to eat salads all year round too and it isn't actually that difficult seeing as our climate is so mild so I really have no excuse xx

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