Have you ever had a friend disappear on you on a spring day, only to find her banging at your door in the dead of winter looking toda fresca, as fat and as cheeky as if she never left? You open the door and say, Oye chica, ¿qué pasó? What happened to you? Six months ago you told me you were going out for tacos and beer but you never came back!
Well,that chica is me.
Of course, I haven't really disappeared. One never does in the blogosphere. But it does seem like I've been in a state of suspended animation serving you up huachinango (red snapper) in cilantro crema for far too long. Only now I've come in from the cold to tempt you with your favorite last meal if you were going to face the firing squad tomorrow at dawn—a little bowl of hot chile verde. Now aren't you glad?
I can’t explain why I jumped off the bloggy treadmill. Was it because I felt as burned out as some tripas (intestines) left on the grill for too long? Or, was I afflicted with I can only describe as a particularly bad case of “constipation of inspiration”? Let’s just say I couldn't bear the thought of sitting in front of a computer monitor when all I wanted to do was ride shotgun with my viejo at the wheel and feel the wind whipping through my hair. So I did what I usually do if I can’t satisfy wanderlust:
I planted a garden and painted some pictures.
I lost myself in a bit of escapism in the company of a beautiful Spanish couturière/spy
and even knitted a sweater.
What I couldn't do was pick up a pen and write love letters to Mexican food. Every word tasted sin chiste—as insipid and lacking in sabor as a Velveeta-stuffed chile relleno in the worst “Mexican-ish” restaurant in the whole sad state of Alabama.
And just as I thought that my cocina would remain forever dark, that I'd never make a decent pot of frijoles ever again, that's when I was saved by some tomatillos on the side of the road.
Half of them had been smashed to a pulp. The others were curbside, looking like the scattered peridot gemstone beads of a broken necklace belonging to a giantess who never bothered picking them up. I quickly threw some into the basket of my bike. It was getting dark, so I promised to come back for the rest—greedily hoping that come morning I would be the one to collect all the booty before someone else got to them.
The next morning they were still there! Holding a large shopping bag, I started grabbing all the undamaged tomatillos I could find. I ignored the sometimes curious, sometimes sarcastic looks of certain passersby. Why was that loca lady bent over on the side of the road picking some green who-knows-what off the ground? Yes, I did feel kind of stupid for wearing the wrong attire—a dress and a pair of high heels—for street-side vegetable picking in a stiff wind. Pues ni modo--that was the least of my worries. I was more concerned about turning into road kill by getting run over by another load-dropping tomatillo truck. When the bag was almost too heavy for me to carry, I lugged it over to my car.
I looked at the palms of my hands—they were filthy and sticky to the touch. Some motorists had probably seen up my dirt-stained dress. I wish I could say that I cared, but I bore the "humiliation" in fine spirits. I had been given a gift: a seed for a story and an ingredient for a recipe. It was just the little puff of inspiración for more stories to come, or perhaps just this blog post.
I gave most of the tomatillos away to friends, keeping two pounds for myself. After staring at them for a long time I got to work. I gave myself permission to not think of what to write about. I just enjoyed the silence of it all, the concentration and the rhythmic movement of my hands as I chopped the onions and the chiles. The fresh green of the tomatillos and the cilantro, the raw chiles and how they burned my fingertips, the sound of pork sizzling—all of this was coming together to create something delicious and for that moment I felt I could start blogging again—always at a snail’s pace, of course. This has always been a slow-cooked blog.
I occupied myself with other things and gave this blog and my mind a rest. Perhaps it was just what I needed to let the seeds of a story or two percolate until they are ready to sprout and grow. No need to force the bloom.
Sometimes inspiration tells you sorry but I’m not coming tonight, mañana or the night after that. If you want me back you must be silent. Listen and look around you. Be willing to get dirty if you have to and don’t be afraid to look like una taruga—a complete and utter fool. Only then will it gently tap on the shoulder and say, “Aquí estoy.”
The tomatillos on the side of the road taught me that.
You can have chile verde anyway you like. It is equally delicious on a torta, a burrito, in a tamal, with beans and tortillas or with your huevitos (eggs) instead bacon or ham. You can, like my viejo sometimes does, even eat it straight from the pot just as I’m getting ready to serve dinner. Though I’d like nothing better than to slap his little hand, I can’t blame him. Honestly, who can resist the hot delicious mess of porky goodness of chile verde? Nobody I know.
I used pork for this dish, but feel free substituting a relatively inexpensive boneless beef chuck if you prefer. Go ahead, use any fresh chile you have on hand that's as mild--or as hot as you want. If the chile verde is not hot enough for your taste, chop and sauté a fresh jalapeño and throw it in the pot. (I don't know about you, but it seems to me that jalapeno chiles are not as hot as they used to be. Next time, I'm going with serrano chiles instead.) If it tastes too tart, add a teeny bit of sugar (about ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon), but don’t overdo it. It will ruin the chile verde. If you prefer thinner sauce, add more chicken broth to taste, but keep the sauce nice and thick if you are making this dish for tamales--and don't forget to put some pickled jalapeno strips along with the chile verde in each tamal. (Fortamales masa recipes and guide, click here.)
You can roast the tomatillos and the chiles under the broiler.
Or, you can toast them on the comal.
Both bring out exceptional flavor. (Click here to learn the finer points of roasting or toasting tomatillos and chiles.)
Or, don’t roast them at all. Your chile verde will still taste great.
3 pounds pork shoulder butt
2 or 3 tablespoons fat: vegetable, olive, bacon grease(!), the choice is yours
2-3 large cloves of garlic (unpeeled)
salt and pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
up to 1 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
⅛ to ¼ teaspoon sugar (optional)
4 or 5 fresh Poblano and/or Anahiem chiles
2 or 3 jalapeño chiles; can substitute with chiles serrano if you prefer a hot chile verde
up to 1 ½ pounds fresh tomatillos, depending on how much you of a tomatillo taste you prefer
cilantro to taste—I used ½ bunch for this recipe
4 cups chicken broth, (or more if you prefer a thinner sauce) 1 16 ounce can pickled jalapeno strips (for the tamales)
To broil: cut the tomatillos and the chiles in half and place them flat-side down on a aluminum-wrapped cookie sheet. Add the unpeeled garlic and brush them all with a bit of oil and place under the broiler until they are charred but not burned to death. Remember to check them every few minutes! Remove immediately. You can remove or charred skin if you want, but you don’t have to. Some love the taste of charred bits.
OR, toast them all on an oiled comal [griddle] over high heat. Turn every couple of minutes. There is no need to sweat the chiles or the tomatillos in a plastic bag this time. When they are done, carefully remove the seeds from the chiles (only if you don't want them too hot) and chop them along with the onion.
Next, peel the garlic and whirl them in a blender with the tomatillos.
When the tomatillos and the garlic have been liquefied, add the fresh cilantro and whirl again for a minute. Set them aside.
IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO to roast the chiles, tomatillos and garlic, no problem: Simply cut the fresh tomatillos in half, and whirl them in a blender with 2 or 3 peeled garlic cloves and the cilantro. Seed the chiles and remove the veins (but only if you can't tolerate too much heat), and chop them along with the onion. Set aside.
Take the pork and trim away all excess fat. Cut the pork into bite-size chunks and dry them with a kitchen towel.
Sear the pork in the fat over high heat until they are golden brown. Remove the pork from the pot and put it in a large bowl. Drain out most of the fat from the pot, except for tablespoon or two.
Cook the onion and chopped chiles with one smashed garlic (optional) in the pot until the onions are golden brown. Add the seared pork.
Stir in the tomatillo mixture and the chick broth together with the bay leaf, the oregano, cumin and the salt and pepper to taste.
Cover and simmer for one hour. Now is the time to check the seasonings—does it need more salt and pepper or cumin? Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes more until the pork is tender.