Thursday, October 24, 2013

Guest Post: I got the Salsa Verde Blues

by Suzanne Taylor

It's late October, and my tomatillo plants are still flowering and fruiting very well. I also got a gorgeous pile of the purple ones from Linda Crago last week in my basket. 

My tomatillo bucket runneth over as we head towards winter, and the gardening blogs assure me I can cut down the plants before frost and hang them upside down someplace and they will keep on ripening. 

It's a nice idea, but considering each plant is the size of a small child, it isn't very feasible to find house room for such an endeavour. Those things are beasts. And I must confess, I am getting salsa verde fatigue. 

Now, tomatillos are something I love, don't get me wrong. Before the dawn of foodieism in southern Ontario, where the most exotic thing you'd see at a grocery store was a jalapeno pepper or a coconut, you couldn't find these little paper-husked delights anywhere around these parts. 

Being a foodie explorer type, I constantly looked at Mexican food recipes that called for tomatillos and sighed. "Find them at your local ethnic grocery store!" the recipe advised. Yes, but in St. Catharines in 2004, that was nowhere to be found. I had similar problems with Thai food recipes; you should see the blank stares you get when you go into the A&P and ask for Kafir lime leaves or bird's eye chilis. 

Once I had a friend who visited Mexico bring me back some canned tomatillos. I was so excited and whipped up a green enchilada sauce right away. It wasn't bad, but it was soon over and I spent more time poring over Rick Bayless and wondering if I could find a Mexican grocery store someplace over the border and smuggle some back. 

Well, then I met Linda Crago in 2006 at the Fielding Winery tomato festival, and her vegetable baskets brimming with purple tomatillos, and positively annoyed her with all kinds of questions about them. Did she always grow them? How many did she grow? Could I buy some? Could I buy a lot? Where was Wellandport, anyway? (I still don't think I know the answer to that). 

So, tomatillo bliss ensued. Every season since, we have made vats of what my husband calls his 'bastard sauce', using all of Linda's hot peppers too, and it is delightful, even if it makes police officers cry. 

Even when we lived up north, in the land where tomatoes don't really grow, I found a guy growing tomatillos and bought out his stash, since nobody else knew what they were. I am quite sure he thought I was clinically insane, but I am used to that. 

But, I gotta be honest too; tomatillos are kind of a one-trick pony, recipe-wise. Everything is a variation of green sauce or salsa. Linda has mentioned people eating them raw recently, but I just don't think that's my thing. 

Still, I was determined to find something that wasn't sauce to use them in. But, stick 'tomatillo recipes' into ye olde Googles, and you just get endless variations on sauce. It's good with pork or chicken, on tacos, etc. But that's all Google was telling me. I realize it is a seedy little husk cherry type veg, and that when it gets cooked it reduces down to sauce naturally, but surely there has to be something else to do with them. 

So, I asked my favourite cooking blog, The Kitchn ( in their Good Questions section, and didn't really get the answer I was looking for. Lots of variations on the same; add them to chilis and stews, etc. There were more exotic things like tomatillo dal and curry offered too, which are intriguing but weren't grabbing me the way I wanted.  

I wanted a star recipe for the tomatillo that didn't involve cooking it down into some sort of mushy sauce thing. I wanted it to have another dimension. I wanted it to stand out as the main ingredient. 

And this morning, after reading the just-okay suggestions to my question, I had a brainwave; if you can fry green tomatoes with batter, why not tomatillos? I mean, we all saw the movie Fried Green Tomatoes back in the early 1990s, right? How could I have forgotten? After that came out, it seemed like every specialty shop with 'gourmet' food sections offered fried green tomato batter as a novelty gift item to rot in the back of your pantry, which was silly as it's just breadcrumbs and seasoning at heart. 

But, could the tomatillo stand in place of the green tomato?

Tomatillo-loving friends everywhere, I was right. This IS a thing, and I found the recipe to prove it, thanks to Country Living magazine. Bring it onnnnn!

Fried Tomatillos with Creamy Cumin Dip

  • 1/2 cup(s) sour cream
  • 1/3 cup(s) mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon(s) hot sauce
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon(s) ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon(s) fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) ground coriander
  • 8 large tomatillos, husked and rinsed
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cup(s) breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup(s) flour
  • 2 teaspoon(s) salt
  • 1 cup(s) canola oil

  1. In a medium bowl, combine sour cream, mayonnaise, hot sauce, 1/4 teaspoon cumin, lime juice, and coriander. Refrigerate dip until ready to serve.
  2. Cut tomatillos into 1/4-inch-thick slices and set aside. In a shallow small bowl, beat eggs. In a shallow medium bowl, combine breadcrumbs, flour, salt, and remaining cumin.
  3. In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat canola oil. Working in batches, dip tomatillo slices in egg, then in breading; shake off excess. Repeat. Fry the slices until deep golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate. Serve immediately with reserved creamy cumin dip.

Now, this is the kind of thing I was looking for. I needed to get inspired by these little bundles that drew bees to my garden in droves all summer. I mean, these plants are huge tree-like things that spring from a tiny little plant in a very short period of time, and produce an astonishing amount of fruit. Even for a crazy Mexican food lover like me, that's a lot of green salsa. 

But it's one thing to find a recipe, it's another to make it fly. So I decided to whip up a batch of these. I had everything to make it, and there is no time like the tomatillo-laden present to try it. 

Well, I am here to tell you that fried tomatillos and dip are quite a remarkable treat. They keep their crispness nicely with a quick batter and fry, and dipped in the sauce, made with my husband's month-long fermented Louisiana style hot pepper sauce, was a delightful lemony-spicy treat. I ate the entire plate and texted my husband a photo with a caption of "WHO IS YOUR MOMMA?"

I am his momma. His tomatillo-frying momma. This recipe will become a household staple, because I am pretty sure we're going to bring one of those giant plants inside and have them ripening until January, simply because we're kind of food-crazy like that. 

So, stop by my house some night. I'll fry you a few. It'll taste like summer in Baja, where my friend lives, even if the snow is piled high by then and the garden long frozen over. 


kygal said...

Love your descriptive way and am intrigued to see you using them this way. Having grown up in the south & eating fried green tomatoes all my life, I love hearing from others who didn't grow up with them but love them.

Linda said...

Thanks for reading kygal....I'm looking forward to more Suzanne posts!