Around here, there are more taquerias than you can shake a stick at. You can walk almost any direction from my front door and hit at least one within 10 minutes, either a traditional brick and mortar or one of the many taco trucks that set up shop in the neighborhood. People choose favorites based on any number of factors. I judge taquerias by their salsa.
Most places have the same selection of salsas to choose from after you get your burrito or tacos or whatever. There’s a mild bright red ranchero-style sauce, a deeper red and smoky chipotle version, and a green salsa. It’s this last one I always dip into first, not because I like salsa verde but because I love tomatillo salsa. I’m always hoping the sweet/savory/tangy flavor of those funny paper wrapped fruits will be what I find. More often it’s the heat of green chiles seasoned with disappointment.
Who knows how this Massachusetts kid came to love tomatillo salsa because we sure didn’t have it where I grew up. There was one taqueria I knew of in Boston and I only discovered that in high school; before that my Mexican food was all El Paso and Tostidos inspired. But someone I fell for tomatillos which look like a tomato but taste like something else entirely. I supposed what rhubarb is to berries, tomatillo is to vegetables. It’s a little sweet and tart and it cannot be eaten raw. But cooked with onions and spices into a salsa it’s a pretty perfect accompaniment to your homemade tacos. Or, you know, your take out burrito.
I can’t let this post close without mentioning the tragedy that happened earlier this week at the Boston Marathon. Marathon Monday is important all over the state, even to those of us who lived out in the suburbs. It was a day off school for one thing. My dad used to work near the starting line and I know people who live, or have lived, near various points of the race. I even know a few people who have run Boston although thankfully none of them were participating this year. Monday’s events broke my heart, not only because of how much pain it caused that city I love, but also because of how proud I was to see Bostonians rise to meet the challenge and support people who were hurt, physically or otherwise, by the attack. I may be a West Coaster now but Boston is always in my heart.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
Alright, so back to this salsa. You have two choices for how to put it together depending on your preferences. If you like a chunky salsa then chop everything up into a medium dice so that the final product will have some texture. But a) I am lazy and b) I like a smoother salsa so I just roughly chopped it and then blended everything after cooking. Either way works just fine.
1-2 tbs oil
1 pound tomatillos (You can find these in Whole Foods but also much cheaper in a local Mexican or South American grocery store if you have one), peeled, washed, and chopped
1 tbs kosher salt, divided
2 small or 1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup pickled jalapenos or 2-3 fresh jalapenos *
1 tbs freshly ground cumin
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
Juice of 1-2 limes
Place a large non-reactive frying pan (try stainless steel) over medium heat and add the oil. Give it a few minutes to warm up and then add the tomatillos and onions along with a 1/2 tablespoon of the salt. Cook it over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until the tomatillos start to break down and turn a duller green and the onions are very soft. Add the jalapenos and cumin and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the peppers have softened too. Taste to see if it needs more salt.
Take the salsa off the heat and add the cilantro and juice of one lime juice and taste again for seasoning. You can add the rest of the lime juice and more salt if you think it needs more. At this point you can blend the salsa to make it smoother or just leave it chunky. Kept in a sealed contained in the fridge, the salsa should keep for up to two weeks. Eat it on just about everything.
* I pickled a bunch of jalapenos last summer when I got a bag super cheap at a farmer’s market. But you could just as easily use fresh ones. The heat is in the seeds and the ribs inside the pepper so if you prefer less heat, simply remove those things before chopping up the jalapeno.