Thursday, May 24, 2012

Teeny Tiny Tomatillos

I apologize; I realize it’s been a while since my last post. Between work and lots and lots of traveling, (The Husband and I had the pleasure of returning back to my home state to celebrate The Big G’s (my grandma) 90th birthday) I haven’t had a lot of time to get creative in the kitchen. However, this week I decided to revive a favorite from a long time ago.

Until we moved to Chicago, I had never seen or heard of a tomatillo. I grew up in an area of the country that considered Chilli’s Mexican food.  And while I went to college in an area with a fair number of Mexican immigrants, I hadn’t really done much food shopping, so never paid attention to things outside of my wheelhouse.

So one day I was looking for a recipe for something involving a specific type of pasta, orecchiette (literally means small ear) and found an awesome recipe that called for these things called tomatillos. After making the pasta (see my Summer Lovin' post) I decided that I wanted to try more recipes with this tiny green thing.

For those of you who haven’t seen one, a tomatillo looks like a tiny green tomato, but covered in a thin papery husk (it’s also in the Nightshade family!).  If you’ve ever eaten salsa verde (the green stuff, that’s what it’s made from.  You can eat them raw, and they have a nice initial snap or boil them (and then quickly turn soft and are easy to make into salsa).

So in my tomatillo recipe hunt, I found something akin to Mexican lasagna and of course, true to form, I morphed it. This recipe is actually really simple and can be done in short order. The poblano roasting takes the longest by far.  You can use as much of the salsa or cheese as you like, I’m an extra cheese, extra salsa gal myself, so the pan is pretty full by the time it goes into the oven.  It also leads to some really delicious leftovers.

So enjoy!

1 lb of Tomatillos
1 Jalapeno
1 bunch of cilantro
4 sprigs of mint (about ¼ cup loose)
4-6 Large Flour Tortillas
2 chicken breasts cut into 1 inch pieces (can be a rough cut, as long as their bite sized)
4 Poblano Peppers
3 cloves of garlic, whole and peeled
4-5 cups of good quality shredded Mexican cheese

Heat oven to 450 degrees and place poblanos inside (whole) and roast until the skins are brown and easy to pull off. About 20 – 30 minutes depending on your oven. While the peppers are roasting, boil a medium sized pot of water. 

Remove the stem from the jalapeno, but make sure not to cut into it at all (you want it to be whole). Clean off the husks from the tomatillos and wash them to make sure they are no longer sticky.

Once the water has boiled, add the jalapeno and the tomatillos to the water. Cook until the tomatillos start to turn a darker green (about 3- 5 minutes). Drain water and place jalapenos, tomatillos and garlic into a food processor or blender. Quickly blend until it’s a rough chop (so about 20 seconds).

From there, add the mint leaves and rip a good hand full from the cilantro bunch.  I know it sounds odd, but it takes a ton of time to take each leaf off and measure and in this case, you’re blending it all together, so it doesn’t have to be totally precise. Add a pinch of salt and blend until the mixture is totally smooth.

If you decide that you would like your salsa a little hotter, you can quickly boil a bit more water and had a jalapeno from there.  Because I choose to use fresh jalapenos, the level of hotness will vary depending on each one. And because you don’t want to cut into the jalapeno before you blanch it, you don’t know how hot it is until you blend.

By the time you’ve finished this, your peppers should be on their way to complete. At this point, take them out of the oven and let them cool for a bit while you finish up.

In a sauté pan, heat oil and add the chicken. Sprinkle a little salt on and cook until slightly browned. Since the pieces are small, this should be relatively fast.

If the poblanos are still really hot, run them under cold water and try to remove the skin and the seeds. You may not be able to get all of the skin off, by try as hard as you can. Once the poblanos are skinned and seeded, cut them up into 2 inch strips and leave on the side.

In a 9 x 9  pan (I use a Pyrex brownie pan) ladle salsa on the bottom of the pan, enough to cover it and place a tortilla on top. If the tortilla doesn’t cover the whole bottom, you can cut another tortilla into quarters or eighths and get the sections it doesn’t cover. Ladle salsa on top of that, add a cup of cheese (make sure the cheese is even) and then half of the chicken and half of the poblano strips add a little more cheese to the top, in order to make sure the next layer has something to stick to.  Add another tortilla (again, make sure there is enough tortilla to cover the whole layer below) repeat the layer below with salsa, chicken, cheese and poblano. Cover this layer with tortilla, ladle more salsa and cheese to this final layer. I enjoy putting a lot of salsa and cheese on this layer, because, why not.

I generally do not have any left-over salsa when I’m finished putting my “lasagna” together. But that’s because I enjoy lots of sauce. If you’re a less is more person, then you can put as much cheese or salsa as you’d like on it. Just make sure there is enough to bind the layers together.

Place the pan into the oven at 450 and let it cook until the cheese is melted and is ever so slightly golden on top.

Cut and serve!

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