Monday, August 10, 2009

Recipe: Salsa Verde

Do you always drive the same way to work each morning, never deviating from your route? Do you always order the same dish at a certain restaurant, because it's your favorite? Do you always maintain the same morning routine (shower, shave, floss, brush, etc.)? We're all, to greater and lesser degrees, creatures of habit, myself included.

I used to think that was a bad thing. To me, habits were repetitive (no surprise there), monotonous, boring. As a result, I'd intentionally drive a different way to get somewhere, even if I had a "standard" route that would have been just as easy to take. Or I'd change up the routine in some way that would break the habit, if only for a day, and if only to prove to myself that I wasn't a total slave to my habits.

But habits can be - and often are - a very good thing. Think personal hygene, or proper form in a sport, or checking your blind spot before changing lanes while driving. I had this not so stunning revelation in rock climbing. There, Kelli and I religiously practice the same habits - no matter how routine, how easy or difficult, how dangerous or seemingly safe a given climb, we always do the same safety checks; always tie our figure eight knots the same way; always check out belays the same way; always rig our rappels the same way.

That's because in emergency situations (high stress scenarios) our minds revert back to habit, to reflex. We don't have time to think, or we're too flustered to think rationally, so we do what comes naturally, and what comes naturally are habits. "You play the way you practice," they say in sports. If we don't drill the right safety checks every time, if we don't make them habit, then when the going gets rough we might literally make a fatal error. A good habit can be a life saver in rock climbing.

But enough with the heavy stuff. This is a story about food habits, and about Chipotle in particular. No where when dining out am I a creature of habit more so than here. Although I've occasionally been known to change it up a bit, 9 times out of 10 my order is a slam dunk: burrito bowl, no beans, extra rice, barbacoa, a healthy dose of salsa verde, a bit of salsa rojo, and some lettuce.

The salsa verde (aka "green sauce" in English), in particular, is part of what makes the dish for me. The foundation of any salsa verde is tomatillo (pronounced toe-mah-TEE-yo). The literal Spanish translation means "small tomato." In Mexican cuisine, tomatillo refers specifically to the tomatillo, a relative of the tomato. The bright green fruit is contained within a characteristic paper-like husk, and imparts both wonderful green color and a slightly tart taste to recipes.

Inspired by Chipotle's salsa verde, I've been wanting to make our own version for a while. And when our supermarket recently began stocking some great looking tomatillos in the produce section, we knew it was time to strike while the iron was hot. Tomatillos are usually cooked before turning them into salsa - either by broiling them in a roasting pan in the oven, or by boiling them in water on the stovetop. I prefer to roast them on the grill to impart a little smoky flavor to the salsa.

Here's how to make our version of Salsa Verde:

5 tomatillos
1 jalapeno pepper, 1/2 of seeds removed
1/2 - 2/3 cup sweet yellow onion
1/3 - 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
juice of 1 lime
Dash each of salt, pepper, ground cumin

1. Remove the paper husks and stems from the tomatillos, and roast the bright green fruits directly on a grill grate over high heat. Periodically turn the tomatillos to get a little bit of char on each side.
2. Add the tomatillos and all remaining ingredients to a food processor. Pulse/blend just until pureed and well mixed.

Retain more seeds from the jalapeno for a spicier salsa, and discard more seeds for a milder salsa. Because the tomatillos were just roasted, the salsa will be warm. It can be served this way, or pop it in the refrigerator to chill the salsa (our preference). Enjoy!

- Pete


I Am Gluten Free said...

There's nothing like homemade Salsa Verde. After making my own, I'd never (well, almost never) go back to store-bought!


peterbronski said...

Hi Ellen... So true! That's our sentiment with most of what we make at home... we'll take our version over store-bought anytime!

Cheers, Pete