Chef Says: the wonderful little 'green tomato'

In this issue of Chef Says, our friend and wonderful cook Ben Fossen ( @fossenben ) teaches us how to make one of the most signature salsas...

In this issue of Chef Says, our friend and wonderful cook Ben Fossen (@fossenben) teaches us how to make one of the most signature salsas of the Latin American cuisine: salsa verde, using the one ingredient that we talked about from the previous #LEARNABOUT section: tomatillo.

The mysterious origin of the "special" taste

If you ever tried a raw tomatillo, you will know that the flavor is extremely distinctive, described as "green and grassy". However, if you have also tasted a tomato/eggplant/wonderberry (which we will talk about in Vol.6.2 of #LEARNABOUT--stay tuned!), you will also notice that despite their largely different flavors, there seems to be some undertone commonality in flavors that is consistent across these plants of the Solanaceae family. 
It is actually no coincidence that all the Solanaceae plants share similar flavors. This is a result of some common volatile compounds that are found in these plants. 
Specifically, some of the biggest players are:
(Z)-3-hexenal, (E,E)-2,4-decadienal, nonanal, hexanal, hexanol and (Z)-3-hexen-1-ol. 
In this article, we won't go into details of what these compounds are, but we will talk about them in the near future. If you are interested in learning more, you can check out the following scientific articles and guides:
Comparison of Volatile Release in Tomatillo and Different Varieties of Tomato during Chewing
Novel Aspects of Tomatillo Flavor
However, please keep a very important concept in mind (which we will revisit in a few issues of #LEARNABOUT): how we perceive taste is not only dependent on the flavor of the food alone, but also how it smells (olfaction), how it looks (color), and how it feels (texture+temperature).

Step-by-Step Guide to Making Salsa Verde

Traditionally, salsa verde is made by blending all the ingredients by hand, and to aid this maneuver, tomatillos are usually grilled for softening, then chopped finely. However, in these modern times, we are blessed with blenders and food processors, and that's the way we are going to do it in this article.

What you will need:

Onion: while or yellow.
Tomatillo: remove husks.

Garlic: peel.
Salt: to taste.
Cumin: this is optional. It is used to give the final product a little extra kick. 

Cilantro: this is not optional. If you don't like the taste of cilantro, you can try to leave it out, but it SERIOUSLY won't taste the same.
Serrano Peppers: this pepper has the spiciness similar to JalapeƱo. 
Oregano: this is optional, but a very popular modern addition to salsa verde. 

How much of each ingredient do you need?
You can see the picture below. We just eyeballed it and used 6 tomatillos, half an onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a bunch cilantro, and a little oregano. Salt and cumin to taste. The more serrano peppers you add, the spicier the final product will be. 

After you collect, chop, and prepare all of the ingredients, simply combine them all and blend!

The result is a super easy-to-make, delicious, and lovely looking sauce that you can pour over everything from enchiladas to burritos, or simply eat with chips!

In terms of flavor, salsa verde has a lot of similar flavors to one of the red versions of salsa called pico de gallo. The difference is that people don't typically put oregano and cumin in pico de gallo, and of course, that one ingredient that makes salsa verde stand apart: tomatillo. 

Chef Says

 "Latin American food is a lot about the sauce, and among the popular sauces, salsa verde has a flavor that is hard to describe in any language. It's a wonderful flavor that you would not expect out of a little green 'tomato'."

About Ben:
Ben went to school at the University of Minnesota to be a software engineer, but in his free time he enjoys cooking and likes experimenting with unique fusion recipes. He thinks that food presentation enhances the experience and therefore he likes to use creative plating with his food. You can follow him on instragram @fossenben.

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