When Life Hands you Tomato Blight, Make Salsa Verde
This Northeast tomato blight situation seems to have gotten the foodie world into a serious panic. The prospect of an August that’s not awash in copious amounts of cheap, gorgeous tomatoes of every shape, size and color seems to have left a void in many late-summer menus. I appreciated the full depth of the situation when reading this past week’s Dining section of the New York Times, where Melissa Clark touted her recipe for “BLPs“: that’s bacon-lettuce-and-plum sandwiches, with the plum pinch-hitting for tomato to provide the soft, sweet-tart succulence to balance out the crispness of the bacon and lettuce.
Since I’m not much one for bacon (and sandwiches are at best an occasional occurrence for me), I wondered what could I do to keep up appearances during this abnormal lull in seasonal red tomato-bounty.
It all hit me when I encountered a heaping pile of affordable tomatillos at the Farmer’s Market this past week. Like my imaginary Mexican grandmother always said: When the tomato-growing gets tough, the tough get tomatillos. (Besides, rumor has it that the Obamas are growing tomatillos in their White House garden, so I figured it was my civic duty to hop on the tomatillo bandwagon.)
My only experience with tomatillos up until this past week had been in their role as the starring ingredient of that tangy salsa verde which accompanies my occasional Mexican restaurant enchilada.
But with the heat wave we’ve been experiencing here in New York, there was no way I’d be turning on the oven to bake enchiladas. So I decided to consult my Rick Bayless Mexican Everyday cookbook to see what else I might do with these blightless tomato-esque beauties. Rick offered up a simple recipe for Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, where the so-called roasting takes all of 5 minutes: just slice the tomatillos in half and place them face down in an un-oiled non-stick pan until they turn dark, then flip them and repeat. (Roasting, apparently, enhances a tomatillos’ flavor). He further suggests using his tomatillo salsa to dress a warm pasta dish with chopped salmon or chicken breast (this is a great use for leftovers) and sprinkled with shredded Mexican or Parmesan cheese; for the exact (easy) recipe, follow the salsa link provided above and keep scrolling down. I used Ancient Harvest’s gluten-free quinoa-corn pasta shells with great results; the shells capture the tomatillo sauce and little bits of salmon and cheese so that each bite is flavorful. Of course, you can use this salsa for any old thing you can imagine; your favorite home-made tacos, enchiladas or fajitas would be a good place to start. (Try it on this fantastic recipe for Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas from Karina’s Kitchen… it won last year’s Whole Foods Market Food Blogger Budget Recipe Challenge!) And if these ideas don’t inspire you, check out Eating Well magazine’s impassioned homily on 5 Reasons to Love Tomatillos with four more recipe ideas.
If you’re a tomatillo novice like I was, Bayless offers us a few additional tips by way of orientation: if you remove the papery husk, you can store tomatillos for up to a month in the refrigerator. And before cooking/using, be sure to rinse them of the sticky residue that lies between the husk layer and the flesh. He also suggests choosing the smaller-sized ones for better, citrusier flavor. Easy!
What is a Tomatillo, anyway?
Tomatillos are members of the same nightshade family as tomatoes, but they’re not the same as an unripe green tomato used to make fried green tomatoes down South. They taste tart and citrusy–more lemony/green-appley than grassy and sweet like a red tomato, to be sure.
Gram per gram, tomatillos have around an equivalent amount of vitamin C as your average red tomato and a little bit more potassium, which is an important nutrient for helping maintain a healthy blood pressure. However, tomatillos lacks the vitamin A and lycopene found in its red tomato cousin; important nutrients respectively, for vision preservation, immune function and (in men), prostate health. But what they lack in Vitamin A they try to make up for in their low calorie and carbohydrate density; according to the USDA, 1 medium tomatillo has just 11 calories and 2g carbohydrate… which makes tomatillo salsa an excellent substitution for sugary and sodium-filled jarred/canned red tomato sauces to dress those summer pasta dishes. (Are you listening, dear friends with diabetes and high blood pressure?) To compensate for the absence of Vitamin A, saute up a side dish of spinach, kale or broccoli with your tomatillo dish and you’ll be good to go. Alternatively, if you use your tomatillo salsa to top those sweet potato enchiladas, you’ll be more than covered in the Vitamin A department. And that watermelon you have for dessert will stand in for the tomatoes on the lycopene front.
Blight or no blight, tomatillos are a delicious (and apparently patriotic) food to add into your summer rotation. Locally-grown tomatillos should still be around through the end of September, so try them while you can!Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.