Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tomatillo Avocado Salsa

It’s Cinco De Mayo, so it seems fitting to offer this salsa recipe I have been playing with recently.  So eat up!  Happy Cinco De Mayo, everyone!

The Background

Whenever I go to a Mexican restaurant and there is a green salsa, I usually love it, but for some reason I have never tried to make my own.  My grocery store carries tomatillos year round, so access to good fresh produce isn’t the problem.  A couple of weeks ago, I went to my favorite taqueria in Round Rock, where they make their salsas fresh everyday.  I love their green salsa.  I could drink it with a straw, but that might seem a bit inappropriate as I stand there at the salsa bar.  Above the salsas, the restaurant had provided a description of each salsa and their relative heat factor.  As I read the description, which included a list of the ingredients, it finally sunk in.  I am a relatively smart guy, and I know my way around a kitchen, recreating this salsa can’t be THAT hard, can it?  Armed with a mental list of the ingredients, I raided the HEB produce section with reckless abandon.

The Ingredients

  • 1 lb. fresh tomatillos (about 10-12 depending on the size)
  • 2 fresh avocados
  • 1 medium size sweet onion
  • 6 Serrano peppers
  • 1 tbsp. garlic (chopped)
  • 1 fresh lime
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste


Making It Work

Tomatillos are really quite easy to work with.  If you aren’t familiar with it, a tomatillo is green fruit that is used a lot in Mexican cooking.  The fruits themselves are sheathed in a husk, so the first order of business is to remove the husks and wash the fruit.  Once the husks are removed, you will find that the fruits are kind of sticky.  A rinse in cool water will take care of this.  Now is a good time to go ahead and give the cilantro and peppers a rinse while you are at it.  Go ahead and rinse that lime too, we are going to use the zest, so we want to make sure it is good and clean.
Now that your fresh produce is all clean, its time to get busy chopping.  I prefer to let my food processor or immersion blender do most of the heavy lifting, but a coarse chopping of the tomatillos, cilantro and onion will give us a head start.  For the cilantro, I generally chop the leafy greens right above the band holding the bundle together.  We are looking for a fairly uniform 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch chop of the tomatillos, onion and cilantro.  Once they are chopped, put them into a nice big bowl, or your food processor. 
The Serrano peppers need to have their stems removed, and depending on the amount of heat you prefer, you may want to open the chiles up and remove the seeds.  I like the heat, so for me, they are staying in there.  Again a coarse chop is all that is needed, I chopped mine into about 1/2 inch pieces and toss them into the salsa bowl.
For the avocado, I find it easiest to cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, use a spoon to scoop it from the shell and then mash it with a fork in the salsa bowl.  Next, use a micro plane to zest the whole lime.  Be gentle here, the green zest definitely adds to the fragrance and flavor, but the white pith is not good eats.  Zest the entire lime and then cut it in half and squeeze all the juice you can get out of both halves.  Now we just need to add the garlic and spices and then let the food processor do its thing. 
I prefer my salsa to be silky smooth, so I let mine go for a long time.  If you prefer a chunkier salsa, use the pulse feature and go slow. Do a taste test periodically before adding any salt and pepper.
This recipe makes quite a bit of salsa, far more than I needed for the birthday party I made it for.  The good news is that I was able to freeze the leftovers in glass jars in smaller quantities.  I was amazed at how well the frozen salsa thawed and tasted after several weeks in the freezer.  This a new favorite of mine.  I will be making this recipe a lot this summer, taking advantage of the in-season prices for the tomatillos, cilantro and peppers.  And now that I know how well it freezes, I am anxious to see how well it handles the canning process for longer storage possibilities.