Posts Tagged 'local foods'

What to do with tomatillos (those sassy little tarts)

Look at these things: They’re gorgeous, no?

These are tomatillos. If you live in California, or New Mexico, say — places with a little ethnic or culinary diversity — you might already be intimate with these. I, on the other hand, live in whitest-of-white-bread New England. Forgive me my sheltered enthusiasm; they’re a little less familiar to me.

I began cooking with tomatillos last summer, and I was delighted. They look kind of like green tomatoes — their name, in Spanish, means “little tomato” — but they are firm and tart and sour, like a sassy, hip-swaying cousin of their juicy, red cousins. They grow in husks that look like Japanese paper lanterns; when you pull them out of the husk, they are intriguingly sticky.

Tomatillos were first cultivated by the Aztecs. I’m sure you recall from 7th grade social studies that the Aztecs allowed women to be priests, AND they drank chocolate. Human sacrifices aside, the Aztecs always did seem pretty wise.

Tomatillos form the basis of most green salsas, as well as verde sauces in Mexican cuisine. They can be roasted, added to soups, chopped into zangy salsas, and even used to make green gazpacho. I’ve tried them a bunch of different ways, invariably to delicious results. Unfortunately, with each attempt, I have been so busy exclaiming things like “I love these things!” and “Tomati-yo! Tomati-yo! Listen to me, I even know how to pronounce it correctly! Tomati-YO!” and “Wow! Maybe I’m not so hopelessly white after all!” that I neglect to keep track of what, exactly, I’m doing.

Hence, I have no specific recipe for you. Not a one.

The good news, however, is that these dynamic little powerhouses of flavor, mixed with a few other staple ingredients — say, onion, garlic, chile, cumin, lime, and fresh cilantro — can do wonderful things, even without a recipe.

A few nights ago, for example, my buddy Jenn came over for a little Scream at Your Bickering Children-Festival dinner and we made a tomatillo-chicken soup. As our children ran wild, decided against taking our child-rearing cues from the Aztecs and throwing them into a fiery pit. Instead, we made our sacrifice to the Gods in 21st century-style: we simply ignored our little beasties as we stood in the kitchen chopping and sipping on cocktails.

It took Jenn a little time to overcome her trepidation about taking them out of their papery husks and washing the sticky stuff off of the tomatillo skin — “Mucus!” she screeched, recoiling, when she first touched them — but she quickly moved past that, and began to enjoy the process.

“Ohh, you can blog about this,” she exclaimed as I threw ingredients haphazardly into the pot.

“Mmm,” I answered. “Unfortunately, once again, I’m not really keeping track of what I’m doing here.”

“That’s okay!” said Jenn. “It can be all about how you don’t need a recipe!”

And so it is.

That night, dinner involved sauteed garlic, onion, a green chile, a touch of cumin, handfuls of chopped tomatillos, kosher sea salt, and chicken broth. We simmered until soft. Then we blended with an immersion blender, added heaps of leftover chicken, simmered some more. We added fresh cilantro, a touch of lime juice, then served it over rice. And it was good. The adults and one of the four children, thought so, anyway. Two children refused to try it, and the remaining child pursed her lips and shook her head back and forth. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, NOOOOOO!”

But that child was Charlotte. Don’t take her word on anything.

The next day, I mixed the leftovers with black beans, and I dare say it got even tastier.

Tomatillos pack a powerful nutritional punch: just one tomatillo includes 91 mg of potassium, as well as plenty of calcium, vitamin C, folic acid, vitamin A, and vitamin K. Add them to salads or soups to punch up your meal’s nutritional content.

They keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. However, if you’re lucky enough to have more tomatillos than you can use in that time, try freezing them; spread them out first on a baking sheet to freeze; once frozen, put them in a freezer bag. Or better yet, try Barbara’s simple recipe for canned tomatillo salsa. If you’re looking to cook with them tonight, try this yogurt-gazpacho recipe from Gourmetish. Or how do enchiladas verde sound? Can’t stop the tomatillo love? Here’s a nice article from the LA Times about tomatillos.

I’m on vacation this week, in the Blue Ridge mountains. I might have something to say from here, I might not. Either way, I hope you have a great week.

Oh, it’s killing me. Not literally. Well, maybe.

Okay, here’s what I want. It’s not everything, I want, mind you (okay, maybe I want an Oreo, too, though that’s not MOSTLY what I want). But this morning at least, these are some things that occupy a good percentage of my hankerin’:

I want more vegetables at more affordable prices. I want less processed junk. I want a bag of something-that’s-good-for-me to cost less than a box of something-that-kills-me. Mostly, I’d just really, really like to go to my grocery store and have less than 77% of the items there contain no nutritional value whatsoever (seventy-seven percent. No nutritional value. I mean that’s funny, right? We could bring it down to 74% and we’d all be giving each other high-fives for how healthy we’re getting).

Plain and simple, I want the system, the system of what we grow, and what we eat, to be a little less off its flippin’ rocker. Because it is crazy. Nuts. It is jumping-the-couch cracked. It is Britney-shaves-her-head just-plain Looney Tunes loco.

I mean, look at this comparison between what the government pays farmers to grow (this from the clever folks at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group we should probably all be paying more attention to):


Note the total lack of green on the subsidy side.

And, if you haven’t seen it already, the New York Times published an op-ed, My Forbidden Fruits (and Vegetables), by a farmer, Jack Hedin, who wanted to grow vegetables that could be sold at local farmers’ market. A good thing, right? More vegetables in circulation! More locally-grown produce! Watermelon and tomatoes! A new community-supported agriculture program! A market that actually wants these to consume the good stuff! Improved health! New connections between farmers and eaters! Yeah!

It would have all been so lovely, except that our dumbass troubled agricultural policy penalized the guy, since he wasn’t growing ever-more corn for the commodity program. Obviously, he gives up the subsidy (since there are subsidies for the crap corn that becomes high fructose corn syrup and snack foods but not for the foods that actually make us healthy), but he was also penalized the market value of the “illicit” crop (watermelon as an illicit crop: it’s really quite amusing). AND he runs the risk that those acres will be permanently ineligible for any subsidies in the future.

Because it definitely makes sense to pay people to grow the food that we don’t want them to eat.

Says Hedin:

Ultimately of course, it is the consumer who will pay the greatest price for this — whether it is in the form of higher prices I will have to charge to absorb the government’s fines, or in the form of less access to the kind of fresh, local produce that the country is crying out for.

At this point, allow me to point out that a nutritious diet — one with lots of fruits and vegetables, mind you — lowers your chances of kicking the proverbial bucket from all causes by 30% (oh, sure, you’ll still kick it eventually, but you could probably wait a while longer). And that obesity-related disease costs the U.S. $122 billion a year.

The op-ed is heavily blogged; Michael Ruhlman called the situation “continued victories for farmers who grow food you can’t eat,” noting that it’s appalling, and everyone who cares about good food and the farmers who want to grow it ought to know the ways our Department of Agriculture penalizes the small farmer, reducing the amount good stuff grown and elevating the price of what’s available.

Crunchy Chicken says that the whole thing is really grinding her crackers. But she goes one step further, providing a template letter where you can contact your representative. But wait! She goes EVEN FURTHER — oh yes, she does. She has started a campaign to fix the farm bill by creating a Fix the Farm Bill banner that you can embed in your own blog. That Crunchy Chicken. I’ve never seen her before, but she impresses me. She’s a doer. She’s got opinions. And she uses phrases like “grinds my crackers.” That, my friends, is my kind of mama.

On related note, I don’t often have the desire to go to work for big company — let alone a big tech company. But I’m starting to wonder if maybe we shouldn’t all just go work for Google.


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