Flash in the Pan
Reconsider the Tomatillo
Embracing a forgotten fruit
Pity the tomatillo, one of the most ignored and misunderstood of all produce items. When I see them at the farmers market, languishing in the stalls of growers who would otherwise be on their way home were it not for their tomatillos, I'm reminded of the last kid to get picked for a kickball team. Nobody values tomatillos or knows what to do with them, except to make salsa. And honestly, it's hard to argue that tomatillo salsa is any better than tomato salsa. The true strength of this fruit lies elsewhere, but few seem to know it. My version of Microsoft Word doesn't even acknowledge "tomatillo" as the correct spelling of a word. But if these software developers and farmers market shoppers were to try my chile verde (not to be confused with green chile), they'd be reprogramming their word processors and updating their meal plans, such that proper respect is given to this ancient fruit.
I kept messing with my chile verde recipe until it got to the point of such awesomeness that, when a housemate once knocked a finished batch off the counter before dinner one night, the five-second rule was cast out the window. We scooped it off the floor and into bowls with a spatula, and ate it with the abandon of desperate drug addicts sharing a soiled needle.
I call it "my" chile verde recipe, but it's adapted from bits and pieces I've picked up from various other recipes. Of course, the descendants of Aztecs and Mayans have been combining chile, tomatillos and meat for millennia. I kept messing with my recipe until it got to the point of such awesomeness that, when a housemate once knocked a finished batch off the counter before dinner one night, the five-second rule was cast out the window. We scooped it off the floor and into bowls with a spatula, and ate it with the abandon of desperate drug addicts sharing a soiled needle.
Aztec wordsmiths honored the unusual architecture of the tomatillo with the name miltomatl, which means "round and plump with paper." Almost 2,000 years later, people are still captivated by the fruit's appearance—only to bring some home, discover their strange, tart flavor and say "Hmm." They proceed to search online for tomatillo salsa recipes. If they only knew.
Chile verde is a simple dish, but so rich and complex that one might expect it to be harder to prepare than it is. The ingredients combine into something greater than the sum of their parts in remarkable fashion, such that the finished product can make an average cook look like a genius.
Pork is typically used, but most any meat will do. I like it with deer and recently made a batch with lamb, which resulted in a dish that tasted like something from an Indian restaurant. It seems that chile verde can do no wrong.
The tomatillo's tartness penetrates the meat, tenderizing it and creating new flavor combinations. Meanwhile, the tomatillo becomes transformed into a surprisingly rich and edible version of itself, with a softer, less tart and less strange flavor.