Urbivore’s Dilemma, Week 18: Tomatillos, cilantro, hot peppers, oh my!
Photo: Jennifer Prediger
It’s week 18 of living the Community Supported Agriculture life, which this former takeout addict is tracking here in my Urbivore’s Dilemma column.
This week’s “box,” in quotes because the food at the Cobble Hill CSA is laid out on tables, you bring your own reusable bags for the pickup — there has never once been a box in sight — was full of surprise. Lettuce (so fresh!), summer squash, Swiss chard, and another week of string beans. But the intrigue in this week’s share came from the CSA-suggested makings of salsa verde: tomatillo, cilantro, and hot peppers.
I’m not gonna lie, tomatillos scare me. Add hot peppers to that. Yes. Hello, my name is Jennifer Prediger and I’m a spice-o-phobe.
Perhaps it is my upbringing. I grew up in a bland suburb in Maryland. Pizza sauce was practically too much. Or maybe it’s my Germano-Greek heritage. It’s rare to hear someone describing a recent encounter with a hot tamale potato salad or fiery feta cheese.
Photo: Jennifer PredigerBut let’s get one thing straight: I’ve got no problem with cilantro. Some people do. It’s a polarizing herb. I side with cilantro. Viva cilantro! I even know its other name — coriander. I tried to use this bond to connect to the rest of the salsa verde trio.
Didn’t work. I kept circling around the tomatillos, sizing them up. Who did they think they were? Spicy? Not spicy? Hard? Terrible? I did a little research and was disturbed to discover they’re a nightshade! When I think of nightshades, I think of Shakespearean murder. Or suicide. Or murder suicide in iambic pentameter.
Not knowing what a nightshade really was,
Fears made me a poet yearning to cuss.
A quick online search reminded me nightshades can be nice things, too — like potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplant. When was the last time someone was offed by an eggplant?
Another fun fact: the tomatillo is in the tomato family. In Spanish it can translate to “green tomato” or “little tomato.” This was so adorable, I couldn’t help but converse with them.
Hang on, little tomato! I will like you yet. And while I try, I have just the song for you. You are rather charming, dressed in that adorable papery husk. If you could glow, you’d look like a Chinese lantern.
The tomatillo talk didn’t get me any closer to knowing what to do in this situation. I consulted my trusty copy of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Fresh tomatillo salsa, he suggested. He even introduces the notion of fried tomatillos. Batter something and fry it — always a good way to make a new friend!
Feeling the fried idea but still uncertain, I consulted others. Fellow Grist writer and CSA member Sarah Goodyear looks forward to an annual chicken-and-tomatillo soup. That sounded great. I tried to find a vegetarian equivalent. I came upon a corn-and-tomatillo soup whose recipe left me wanting to find another recipe.
Rachel Wharton, delightful person and Edible Brooklyn editor, knew what she would do. Without thinking twice, she declared, “Salsa!” So there it was.
Yet as of this writing, I have yet to make the salsa. So there’s still time to change course.
What do you do with your tomatillos, readers? Any recipes you can point out for this tomatillo novice?
Next week’s CSA share promises Asian greens 水菜 还有小白菜 (mizuna and bok choy), sweet potato, summer squash, beets, Romano string beans, and escarole. Week 19, bring it on!