La Chica Who Came In From The Cold: Chile Verde

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.

Chile Verde

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. (For tamales 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
1 onion
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.
Tastes maravilloso the next day.
Serves 6 to 8 persons.


Leslie Limon said...

Clementina!!! Que gusto verte de nuevo! What a lovely gift to have found both the tomatillos and inspiration on the side of the road.

Chile Verde is the perfect dish to welcome anyone in from the cold.

Clementina said...

Como estas chiquita!! Que guapa te ves! Que gusto en verte.

Georgina said...

I have you on my blog roll, but I can't recall reading it...must have since you're on my Dashboard. Thank you for the going to make it this week.

I'm lucky to live on the border, so all these ingredients are easily accessible. I don't have to roast my own chile or jalapeno since I can go to the corner store and buy a bag full already for me to bring home and start cooking.

My gawd, mujer, what are you doing in AL??? My ex's familia lives there and I never felt so out of place when I visited, but then, they didn't quite know how to behave around me since I was considered, "Spanish!" Yea, folks, that was like 3 generations ago!! Also, they couldn't understand why I spoke better English than they!!! LOL Oh well, no problem now...they are no longer familia, thankfully.

Anyway, thanks so much for inspiration and I too am not as ambitious when it comes to blogging, but I try to keep up at least once a month...or not!! LOL


Tera said...

I have missed you!

Lorena said...

I glean stuff that falls by the side of the road too, around here it is usually hay that I bring home to my garden. Today the wind is howling and there's snow everywhere but I still have cilantro growing in my greenhouse!Nice to hear from you again. Writer's blocks are sometimes building blocks

Anonymous said...

Hi, nice to hear from you. Sound yummy!
Candee, down in Oceanside

Clementina said...

Hola Chicas!
Candee-a few months ago I stopped by your house to say hello but I didn't find you at home. :^(
Maybe next time!
Lorena--sometimes we have to quiet down the rattling of our bones to listen to the music in our heads.
Tera--you missed me? I'm touched. Gracias!

Miel said...

I've had your blog on my blogroll for awhile, but haven't had time recently to really sit down and aprovecharlo. I always knew your recipes were mouthwatering, but I realize now your writing is also totalmente hermosa! I will certainly be following more closely-- I'm glad you've been inspired to come back to your 'slow-cooked' blog :-) Suerte!

Clementina said...

Hola, Miel!
I'm blushing. Gracias! Wouldn't mind trying your easy mole rec

Anonymous said...

So good to see you back. I hope you don’t stay gone so long this time. Great looking recipe. I will be making it very soon. Maybe this weekend!

MichaelG in Sacto

Anonymous said...

Ya hacias falta. Welcome back. It's been too long. Tomatillos by the side of the road, really? What matters is the end result. . . And it looks delicious. I have come to realize that not only are your stories great, but your photographs are excellent, as well.

Clementina said...

Michael G!
So nice to see you name here. Cuidate mucho.

Anonymous--I will certainly come back but a lot sooner than 6 months. Gracias!

Marie said...

I missed you! I think I never commented so far, but I kept looking if you would come back. Thank you for doing that!

Marie from Sweden

Clementina said...

Tack, Marie! Du ar valdigt nice!

JUNE said...

What a great post tonight! This is my man's favorite dish, so now I have an authentic recipe to follow. I actually had some serrano chilis from my own garden recently and I used them in his birthday dinner. I made Carnitas with a green avocado chili that was as close as I could get to chili verde...You are a very clever writer and super entertaining and I'm glad I stopped by to see what you've been up too...thx for the visit...xox juen

Clementina said...

Hola, June!
Your blogs are some of the most enchanting I have seen in a long time! Thank you for sharing!

Dee said...

I love this blog post! I have read this on a cold day here & Chile Verde is sounding so delicious! I'm glad you came in from the cold. Now, I'm going to hunt down some cilantro & chiles. Have a great week!

Clementina said...

Gracias, Dee!
I can't wait to try some of your recipes, especially the one with the carnival squash!

I'm the Mami said...

Ay. There are no words to describe the joy I feel upon stumbling onto your blog! And to see that you had taken a reprive, but now may be back again more often? I kinda want to do a dance!

Your writing syylw is so warm amd welcoming, I feel like I am your kitchen sipping on mexican hot chocolate while you cook and tell me stories.

Love all the recipes, showed mi cunada the pumpkin empanadas and think I will make those this weekend. And chile rellenos.

Thanks for all the creative work and effort you put into this blog, its a great resource (and a good read) .

Anonymous said...

wow. tomatillos on the side of the road... in alabama?!? talk about a sign from god. i'm glad i found your blog.

Lupe said...

Tomatillos by the side of the road? Ha ha. I would have passed it by thinking, "Oh, I could make something with that...but what?" Thinking about nice hot chile verde with a nice warm flour tortilla...I'm hungry already! Thanks for the post, and thanks for showing that inspiration can come from the most unexpected places!

Comrade Von Pussycat said...

Wow! I just found your blog and I must say I LOVE it! I must try some of the recipes you posted, I am a native Californian but living in Europe right now and I am just dying for some Mexican food! Hugs from Macedonia :)

Clementina said...

Hola Comrade Von Pussycat!
I hope this little recipe will bring you a little closer to home. San Francisco is one of my favorite places. In fact, I'm going to try a little ballroom dancing with my viejo in the Star Light Ballroom at the St. Francis Hotel in Union Square soon!

Anonymous said...

Dear Clementina,

You have no idea how much I enjoy hearing your wonderful stories!

I came home today determined to cook chile verde as well as you describe it! Hmm, such a delicious meal on this chilly evening. :)

Thank you for sharing your cooking secrets; our meal was incredible!

Do you have a red rice recipe?


Clementina said...

Hola, Verónica!
Thank you for your kind about my stories. Enjoy the Chile Verde on this cold night, and check out my rice recipe. Just click "Recipes" in the sidebar. Under "Basics" click Mexican rice.
Have a great evening!