Unleash your inner tomatillo

Stack tomato tomatillos fruits isolated on white background

We’ve been catapulted into 2022 after plowing through the holidays. You’re done wrestling with that turkey, and you can’t possibly think of any more ways of making leftovers sexy.

Many of us are now revising the atypical New Year’s resolutions, which probably include shedding a few unwanted pounds and welcoming back a svelte figure. 

We’re always looking for new recipes incorporating freshness, where we can inject umami flavors into healthy dishes and food preparation that should never be average-ville. Simple dishes can be made without having to become a homicidal maniac in the kitchen. 

I formally introduce you to the swanky and well-rounded tomatillo. Probably the one vegetable that’s secretly disguised and can be overlooked, which is a real shame, because most don’t know what to do with them. Tomatillos can be somewhat alarming if you have no clue what they are.

Chances are if you’ve devoured tortilla chips with Mexican salsa verde, you’ve eaten tomatillos. 

Also known as the Mexican Husk tomato, tomatillos have an exterior paper-like husk covering and they shouldn’t be confused with green tomatoes, as tomatillos have a sweet-tart, almost lemony-apple taste that has absolutely no substitute in the flavor department. And most definitely, they can’t be replaced with green tomatoes — that’s a completely different animal and just like green tomatoes, they can’t be eaten raw.

After the husk is removed, their skin is a little tacky and sticky and they need a thorough scrub before prep.

Not all tomatillos are created equal and although they are a distinctive, vibrant, Granny Smith apple green color, there’s the rare variety of purplish tomatillo, a hidden gem, but totally worth foraging for, as they’re sweeter than the green variety. When purchasing them, ensure that they are as small as possible, as the larger ones tend to be somewhat bitter and grainier.

Cooking with tomatillos is brilliantly easy and once you dive into them, you’ll be wondering why you waited so long to become formally acquainted and you’ll be the neighborhood aficionado. 

When they’re slowly pan-roasted with other vegetables, such as onion, garlic, poblanos and jalapeños, they become marriage material to any Tex-Mex dish. Whether you’re making salsa, or a sauce to accompany your meats/fish, it will douse your dish with such South of the Border flair, you’ll be killing it Mariachi style.

SHRIMP STREET TACOS WITH WARM TOMATILLO SALSA

Mexican food trucks introduced these two-bite wonders that are beyond drool worthy. If you’ve never had them, you haven’t lived, because they are monster good. Many restaurants are regularly incorporating them into their menus because of historic accolades. Once you make them, Taco Tuesday will be a regular occurrence at your residence, so watch out for uninvited guests. In this case, ensure that you create above average numbers; you won’t have any leftovers.

Here, lime wedges are a must as with most Mexican dishes. The brightness of the citrus mellows out the richness of any dish.

1 lb. of small/medium raw shrimp — peeled and deveined

Street taco size (smallest) flour or corn tortillas

3 tomatillos — husks removed and washed cut in quarters

1 large red tomato

1 head of garlic, cut into two halves 

1 medium onion — quartered and skin removed

1 poblano pepper — seeds removed and rough chopped

1 cup of chicken stock

1 TSP of ground cumin

1 TSP sugar

¼ cup of fresh orange or tangerine juice

½ cup of chopped cilantro

1 TBSP fresh lime juice and zest of the lime

1 bay leaf

½ TSP Ancho chili powder

½ TSP Anaheim chili powder

¼ TSP Chipotle powder

¼ TSP of smoked paprika

½ TSP garlic powder

½ TSP onion powder

½ TSP of oregano

Kosher salt

Fresh cracked pepper

Serving garnishes: Cotija Mexican cheese, chopped cilantro, thinly sliced radishes; Mexican crema or whipped sour cream

Pico de Gallo — for serving

Known as Salsa Fresca in some restaurants, it’s one of the easiest to prepare. 

3 Roma tomatoes – chopped; ½ jalapeño – seeds removed and chopped; 3 TBSP chopped fresh cilantro; ½ red onion (chopped fine), Juice of 1 lime; pinch of salt, pinch of sugar

Place all the ingredients in a bowl, add the salt and the lime juice and toss well. Set aside (better made at least 1 hour before serving).

Method

Simmer the tomatillos, tomato, poblano, onion and garlic in the chicken broth (ensure there’s not too much liquid) with the bay leaf until everything is soft — about 15 minutes. Drain over a colander, removing the bay leaf and cool, reserving the stock. Squeeze the garlic out of its skins and place everything in a blender; add salt, pepper, cumin, lime zest with the juice of 1 lime, chopped cilantro, orange juice and a small amount of the chicken stock where the veggies have been cooked. Blend to a smooth puree. Check for seasonings and keep at room temp.

In a bowl, whisk together with the chili powders, paprika, oregano, garlic/onion powder, salt and fresh cracked pepper. Sprinkle over the shrimp and shake excess. Place the shrimp into skewers.

Spray a grill pan with some olive oil and grill shrimp on both sides until done — careful don’t overcook. It only takes a few minutes per side. Remove the shrimp from the skewers and add a splash of lime.

Add some of the tomatillo salsa on a corn tortilla, place the shrimp on top and add the Pico de Gallo. Finish with Mexican crema, some thinly sliced radishes, Cotija cheese, more cilantro and serve with lime wedges.