The story of the Tomatillo and the Pepian Sauce

8 years ago

For Photos and full recipe  visit http://forkspoonnknife.blogspot.com/

Have you seen the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes" ? I saw it a few years ago when I was still in India. Interestingly complex movie with a stellar cast but the reason I bring it up is the "green tomato". Until I saw this movie, I thought tomatoes were always red or when not fully ripe yellow or orange. I had not previously heard of anyone eating green tomatoes. Actually, come to think of it, somehow it never struck me that the vegetable went through a green phase. Anyway, interesting as it sounded, I did not give much thought to it then.

Last summer, at the farmer's market in NYC, I saw one of the farm stalls selling small green tomatoes. They reminded me of the said movie and I was interested. As it turned out, these were not the same "green tomatoes" of the movie fame but the Mexican vegetable called "Tomatillo" (which by the way means 'green tomato' in Spanish!!).

I will explain more about the tomatillos in a minute. But, for the moment, let me digress a bit to the American green tomatoes. These are the unripe tomatoes which are popular in Southern American cuisine. They are typically, breaded and deep-fried and supposed to be fantastic. I have not yet tasted them and when I do will let you know my opinion.

Getting back to the Tomatillos. They look just like tomatoes and are green (surprise!). But a distinguishing feature is that they have a green husk around it, sort of like a papery outer wrapper (like in the left picture). The husk ofcourse has to discarded. The dehusked tomatillo needs a good wash as the skin can be a little sticky. But all this is the side story; the main story is the taste. Tomatillos have a tart and tangy flavor which makes it a unique and distinguishable ingredient in many Mexican recipes notably Salsa Verde.

Salsa is perhaps the most popular result on a Google search for Tomatillo recipe. But, I did not want to make salsa. So my green tomatoes stayed put in the refridgerator for two days before I chanced upon an Elli Kreiger recipe for "Chicken Pepian" whose star ingredient is the tomatillo.

Now, I am not a big fan of chicken in the US because I find the meat a bit dull on the taste compared to back in India. Or perhaps, it is a prejudice created by the method of preparation. Indian dishes tend to be a bit heavy on the spice and the meat can't but help absorb some of the flavor. Nevertheless, the first time I made the pepian sauce, I substituted cod fillets for chicken and it worked wonderfully. The tanginess of the tomatillo comes through in the sauce and just teases your taste buds and then the heat from the jalapeno kicks in.

Once I had tasted the sauce, I totally fell in love with the tomatillo. I just couldn't get enough of the tarty taste; if you like eating raw mangoes, you'll love the tomatillo. Recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find them at the Whole Foods store and happily grabbed a poundful. I wanted that sauce again! This time, I decided to give chicken a try and played around with Ellie's recipe adjusting spices and ingredients to suit my tastes and what is usually in my pantry. I used chicken thighs which have a lot more flavor than the breasts (red vs white meat). I have included my version of the recipe at http://forkspoonnknife.blogspot.com/.

The sauce goes great with any white meat such as fish, chicken, pork and veal. If you are vegetarian, you can substitute the meat with portobello mushroom caps or cottage cheese (paneer) fillets. I like my sauce spicy but if that isn't your preference, you can tone it down by de-seeding the jalapeno and substituting the poblano with a regular green bell pepper.

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