Friday, September 5, 2008

Tomatillo trio - what's the best way to make salsa verde?

The night of the tomatillo trio, inspiration came from the little over a pound of tomatillos sitting there, staring, waiting, asking (no, crying!) to be used up. They begged to be made into salsa...but what's the best kind of tomatillo salsa? And if you're going to be making over a pound's worth of salsa, it better be the best, right? (all our friends are sniggering here)

The three most basic options revolved around cooking methodology: raw, roasted or cooked (simmered). Recipes don't seem to vary much in their ingredients - they involve tomatillos, garlic, chiles, onion, salt, lime juice, cilantro, and occasionally chicken broth and/or cream. All three methods seemed like they would have their own merits, so we gave them all a try! Armed with 6 oz of husked tomatillos, a clove of garlic, half of a small onion, half of a fresh chile (the purple kind), salt, cilantro, and lime juice for each one, the following three recipes came to a papery-husked fruition.

Several sets of people tried all three, and were not told how each was made. Pat's housemate, Evgenia, loved the cooked one with cream, then the roasted, then the raw. Tanya's workmates liked them all, too, in the order of preference based mostly on what kinds of foods they normally eat: the CSA worksharing kayak guide (a.k.a. self-described 'Seattle male action figure') liked the raw best, the southern California sparkly clever chica with a penchant for SoCal Mexican food liked the roasted best, and the ex-military geology/chemistry teacher from the midwest was on the fence between the cooked creamy one and the roasted.

Each of the three had its merits, and warrants a different usage. Since there wasn't a clear winner, the pros and cons of all three, as far as we can tell, are below. Enjoy all three!
The raw was extremely fast to make, using up a maximum of ten minutes' worth of procrastination time (directions: wash vegetables, put in blender, blend, eat). The fast timing was balanced by the fact that it took a day or two to really mellow out the flavors - by the third day, it was by far the yummiest. The flavor is sharp and acidic at first, and not really complex (has one, liberally two, dimensions). Uses for this one would be as a sauce on something that has a creamyness or saltiness to it already, and wants a small bit of sharpness to balance it out. Huevos rancheros, enchiladas, taco salad with lots of other ingredients, etc.
The roasted salsa verde did not take terribly long to make, either - since it was a small quantity, all the vegetables fit into the toaster oven quite easily on broil. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, blend, eat. The only thing to watch for is making sure the veggies get an even amout of char so you can get a really good fire-roasted flavor. This was, generally speaking, the best salsa for SuperBowl. It stands alone for tortilla chips with a couple layers of complexity, and is mellow enough for all the flavors to mingle right out of the blender. Try this with basic weeknight tacos, burritos, taco salads, nachos, or go straight for the chilaquiles in the morning with fire-roasted green salsa. Yum!
This salsa took the longest of the three to make. Involving chicken broth and cream, it was also the one that wouldn't fit on a vegan table. But, it was creamy and smooth, having a mouthfeel that mirrored avocado. The tomatillo flavor was there but much more even, without real acidity to speak of. This sauce is great if you're looking for an almost cheese-saucy kind of element. This could easily get used as a stand-alone salsa, but the fire-roasted will go more quickly. :) Use over something that's inherently smooth already, like TexMex enchiladas. We had it later in the week poured over some black cod steamed in ginger, lime and vermouth... heaven.


This recipe was not only a winner for its flavor and texture, but also its authenticity. Pat had this soup in Morocco, where it is traditionally served as the break for the Ramadan fast. A surprisingly velvety soup - the rich, silkiness of the broth are ideal for a winter's night, served with couscous and an assortment of Moroccan side dishes and salads. Even though this was a half recipe, it lasted us a while. It is also one of the recipes annoyingly cut-and-pasted throughout the web from recipe bots, along with all of the spelling and grammatical errors. We changed a couple things, but kept what we think is one of the most important parts: the flour, blended into the vegetables, added 20 minutes before the end of cooking.

serves 2 for three days, or 4-6 small servings
  • 1/4 lb lamb, diced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp saffron
  • 1 Tbl paprika
  • 4-5 c chicken stock (not broth)
  • 1 soup bone
  • 1/2 Tbl butter
  • 1 Tbl salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 c chana dal (baby chickpeas)
  • 1/4 c dried fava beans, washed and dried
  • 2 1/2 Tbl all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c water
  • 3/4 lb tomatoes
  • 1/2 bunch parsley
  • 1/2 bunch fresh coriander
  • 1/4 c cooked or canned chickpeas
  • 1 /2 Tbl butter
  • 3 Tbl vermicelli
  • 1 /2 lemon, juiced
  1. Brown the lamb, onion, saffron and paprika (to taste) in a deep pan.
  2. Add 3 cups of chicken stock, soup bone, butter, salt, pepper, chana dal, and the dried fava beans.
  3. Begin soaking flour in 1/2 c. water.
  4. Simmer, covered, for 2 hours or more (4 hours is ideal).
  5. 20 minutes before serving, put the tomatoes, parsley, coriander, and flour/water paste in a blender and add to the soup pan with the chickpeas.
  6. Add 1 1/2 cups of stock, and when it returns to boil, add the vermicelli.
  7. When the vermicelli is cooked, add butter and lemon juice.
  8. Serve each bowl with a wedge of lemon.
*Note: Lentils may be substituted for chick peas; meat can be chicken; yeast may be used in
place of flour and water if that mixture was not made night before; rice may be substituted for vermicelli.

A soup served each night at sundown to break the Ramadan Fast.
This receipe is altered from COOKING IN MOROCCO by the American Women's Association of Rabat.

Lettuce and orange salad with walnuts and cinnamon

A simple salad that goes beautifully with a rich Moroccan dish, lightening it a bit but still echoing
the spices. Certainly one of our favorite winners, this could lighten a number of dishes, and was
very refreshing on a hot summer night.

Lettuce and orange salad with walnuts and cinnamon

Yield: 6 servings

1 head romaine lettuce
3 navel or temple oranges
2 Tbl fresh lemon juice
2 Tbl sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tb orange flower water
3/4 c toasted walnuts; chopped

Wash lettuce and section into leaves, discarding the tough outer ones.
Drain; wrap in paper towels to dry. Store in refrigerator until

Cut off peel and white membrane from oranges using a small sharp knife.
Section the oranges by cutting away all the membranes from the orange flesh.
As you work, lift out each section and place in a small mixing bowl. Squeeze the
juice from the remainder of the orange over the sections to keep them moist.
Cover; keep chilled.

Make a dressing by mixing the lemon juice, sugar, salt, cinnamon,
orange flower water and 2 tb. of the orange juice. Blend well, then
taste. The dressing should be sweet.

Just before serving, shred the lettuce and arrange in a glass serving
dish. Pour the dressing over it; toss. Make a design around the
edges with overlapping sections of orange, then sprinkle the salad
with the chopped walnuts and dust with more cinnamon. Serve

Variation: Prepare as above, using 3/4 cup chopped dates and almonds
in place of the chopped walnuts.

Modified from Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco by Paula Wolfert

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