Before I moved to New York I had never seen a tomatillo, or at least I didn’t know that I had seen one. Though I had eaten my share of Latin food, I had no idea that they were the main ingredient in that beloved green sauce served with almost everything. Truth be told (and yes, this is embarrassing), I just thought green sauce was made from green tomatoes…such are the assumptions of a teenage Sicilian girl who grew up eating tomatoes the same way other people did apples—mine was a pomodoro-centric world.
For a while, when I first moved to Spanish Harlem, once I put it together that green salsa was made of tomatillos, for some reason I thought that a chayote was a tomatillo (yes people, I know, we have Google to solve these pressing produce questions, but this was probably 8 years ago, and smartphones were not that smart, or that fast, so it never occurred to me to investigate outside of the grocery store). My green produce dilemma was cleared up when I asked one of my fellow grocery store patrons about how to make salsa out of a chayote, and after she giggled at my ignorance, she explained that papery pods in the produce chiller were protecting tomatillos, and then she confessed that even she didn’t know how to do much with chayotes. Sufficiently embarrassed, I scurried towards the acorn squashes and the carrots (I knew how to cook those), and avoided trying to cook with tomatillos for another 6 years. My salsas were always red, and my green sauce cravings were quenched by the chefs at Mesa Mexicana.
Over the past two years Keith and I started hosting UFC Fight/Poker Nights for our friends. Since we love having our peoples over, way too many of us squeeze into our living room and enjoy finger foods that prepare days in advance. On this particular day there were tons of tomatillos at Farmers Market, and hoping to reclaim my adventurous cooking prowess, I loaded up on them and imagined that I would turn them into a Roasted Tomatillo Sauce to pour over Mini Mexican Meatballs. Both were a huge hit, so I have since incorporated Roasted Tomatillo Sauce into our dinner lexicon. It’s so easy, flavorful, versatile, and healthy, I can’t resist making it an excessive amount every time tomatillos show up at Farmer’s Market or in my CSA Share.
1 pound tomatillos, husks removed and washed
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp cumin
Juice of ½ of a lemon
1 handful of cilantro
Flesh of half a jalapeno (ribs and seeds removed), minced
Salt & pepper to taste
Preheat Oven to 375-400 degrees. Peel and wash the tomatillos thoroughly. You don’t want to feel any of the sticky residue from the husks on the flesh of the fruit.
Chop the tomatillos into a ½ inch dice and place on a foil lined cookie sheet. Give the garlic a good whack with the back of your knife, which will crush it and make the skin super easy to remove. Add garlic to the diced tomatillos and sprinkle with 1 tbs of grapeseed or olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat with oil, and then spread evenly on the baking dish. Because tomatillos are a very watery fruit, try to arrange the majority of the pieces skin side down so they will blister and brown, adding great caramelized flavor as they roast.
Roast for 20-25 minutes, or until they have broken down and are soft to the touch.
Once cooled slightly dump into your food processor (I have the tiny NYC kitchen version of a food processor—a Magic Bullet) and add the lemon juice and the cumin. Pulse until smooth and you can’t detect any garlic chunks. Rough chop the handful of cilantro and add to the tomatillo mixture. Pulse until the cilantro is thoroughly incorporated and there are flecks of green leaves throughout.
Add the minced jalapeno and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir until incorporated.
Serving Suggestions: Over grilled chicken or any type of flaky white fish, as a substitute for a creamy pasta sauce, or as the base layer of a crostini topped with crispy speck or prosciutto.