This is the salsa I make most. The fruit is tomatillo, a round, green fruit enclosed in a papery husk that before I met Roberto I treated as an oddity to be ogled but never purchased. It is crisp and unassumingly tart until it’s roasted, when its texture turns pulpy and its simple acidity becomes complex, like that of cooked plums. The chile is chipotle, which is smoky, fiery, and barely sweet, though to Roberto’s chagrin, I cheat and buy chipotle powder instead of toasting whole dried chiles and pulverizing them myself. (In a pinch, I’ll use canned chipotles in adobo along with little of their liquid.)
Messing around with the ingredients doesn’t hurt. Substitute roasted tomatoes for half the tomatillos. Quadruple the garlic, but roast it first, without oil, until both sides are charred and the cloves are tender but not quite mushy. Swap out the chipotle powder for 4 or 5 dried chiles de árbol (if you can find the real thing, from Mexico) that you toast in a dry pan over medium-low heat until they turn brown and brittle and smell nutty, then pound with the salt and garlic in this recipe.
Spoon it on practically anything.
- Rinse the tomatillos well under running water, rubbing them with your fingers to get the sticky stuff off and to dislodge any dirt or stray bits of husk. Pat them dry with a paper towel.
Set an oven or toaster oven to broil (or preheat to 500°F). If you can, position an oven rack 6 or so inches from the heat source. Put the tomatillos stem-side down on a small baking sheet or toaster oven tray, and roast1, turning them over halfway through, until they’re fully cooked, slightly deflated, and dark brown on their tops and bottoms2, 25 to 30 minutes. Let them cool to room temperature.
1Yes, without oil!
2You might think, “Shit, I burned them!” You did not.
Combine the garlic, the chile powder, and ¾ teaspoon of the salt in a mortar3 and pound to a fine paste.
3A mortar or even better, a molcajete, makes this step super easy, especially for the one-armed cook. But you can totally use a chef’s knife to mince, scrape, and mash the ingredients together on a cutting board and then transfer the paste to a bowl.
Coarsely chop the roasted tomatillos, leaving any juices in the baking sheet. Add a big spoonful of the tomatillos to the garlic-chile paste and stir really well. Add the remaining tomatillos and the juices, and stir well, smooshing some of the tomatillo chunks if you want a smoother salsa. Taste, then stir in more chile powder and salt to taste.4 It keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days.
4Don’t hold back here. It should taste almost too salty and spicy to eat by itself, but it’ll be perfect with dinner.
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