We had a friend over for tacos last night. I know he has excellent taste in tacos (despite an admitted penchant for Dorito Tacos Bell Grande)in part because one of the first times we ever “ran into” someone out in NYC, we ran into him at our favorite Manhattan taqueria, the eponymous Taqueria LES, which makes great barbacoa and lengua tacos and chile salsa. Consequently, I wanted to bust out a few of my favorite taco night accoutrements for an especially appreciative audience.
We had this tomatillo salsa to eat while we were drinking margaritas and finishing up cooking the carnitas-style pork tacos with a red cabbage cumin slaw and pineapple salsa and a nopal poblano rajas taco with avocado cream and cotija.
The interesting thing about this recipe is that it functions as two-in-one in a way, depending on how long the ingredients are cooked. The version in the photos is on the less-cooked end of the spectrum, giving a lighter, tangier result. Cook the tomatillos and onions longer and it concentrates their natural sugars and flavor, darkening the color and making a richer, sweeter salsa. I’ve used the more cooked version as a base for pork chile verde as well as a salsa for chips. It’s sweet, tangy, and delicious. But this lightly charred version is the bright flavor I craved during the stultifying heat we are living in this week. It’s also pretty much as long as I could stand having the oven on in the kitchen.
The grill is also a great way to achieve the smoky char that deepens the flavor of this salsa so intriguingly. Throw the peppers and onions straight onto the grate, but the tomatillos will burst, so keep them on a pan of some kind so all of the tomatillo juice isn’t lost.
If you decide to go with the more cooked version, you will want a bit more lime juice to balance the sweetness of the tomatillos and onions. And of course, the number and heat level of the chiles you use is dependent on your heat tolerance. This version has a medium heat level- add or subtract accordingly.
Charred Tomatillo Salsa Verde
2 pounds tomatillos
1 large onion
1/2 bunch cilantro
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste
Remove the husk from the tomatillos, rinse and dry. Slice the chiles in half stem to tip and cut the onion into wedges. Peel the garlic cloves. Arrange everything on a baking sheet in an uncrowded layer. Do this step in 2 batches if space is an issue, rather than crowding the pan.
Heat your broiler up and place the tray of vegetables under the heat source. Keep and eye on them, turning the vegetables or shaking the pan occasionally if they are browning too unevenly. Once everything is beginning to soften just a little and some of the surface has a little bit of a char on it, remove from the oven and set aside to cool for a little bit.
Cut the larger stems off the cilantro and roughly chop the leaves.
Juice a couple of limes and assemble your spices
Scoop the tomatillos, chiles, onions and garlic into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to break the chunks down and allow the mixture to move and mix. Add about half the lime juice and the cilantro leaves and spices and pulse a couple of times. Once you have reached your preferred consistency ( I like it on the chunky side) pour the salsa into your container and taste for salt and tanginess. If it needs more tartness, stir in more lime juice. Otherwise you’re halfway to a margarita.
The flavors really improve after sitting for at least 30 minutes so I would recommend waiting until then to make any major adjustments to the seasoning. If you prefer more heat at that point, stir in a pinch or two of ground cayenne or chipotle.
I made this once with a Mexican lady who didn’t speak any English. Pretty much the same but it was all ground up in a well-worn molcajete at the end.
If you feel like hopping a train to Suffern NY – my favorite Mexican place pretty much ever is La Hacienda Don Manuel. Or if you feel like taco taco’s San Loco in the East Village are pretty hard to beat 🙂