It’s been too long. So much has happened I’m daunted by the prospect of catching you up so let’s get right down to business instead.
I spent a few weeks in Mexico City over the last several months. You don’t visit CDMX without gorging on street food and so, had my share of salsas. Some of them were very good, a few were great, none of them were bad. Invariably my street stall favourites were the fiery, acidic ones, the right kind for tacos filled with rich, fatty cuts of meat cooked in lard like the insanely beefy suadero at Super Tacos Chupacabras, undoubtedly the world’s best snack available for purchase beneath a highway overpass. My favourite salsa though came as a surprise.
We met up with one of my boyfriend’s clients, Arturo, in Mexico City. He’s from there, and was full of great information. He insisted we visit El Cardenal, an old-school restaurant catering to the city’s upper-crust. I’d had my fill of that kind of eating in the previous days and had no intention of visiting, but with good luck passed by, very hungry, around lunch time.
After waiting in line for an hour, we were seated and quickly ordered half the sprawling menu. Expecting to be assaulted with a collection of salsas, we were instead brought one and there was hardly enough for the three of us. It was comprised mostly of tomatillos, tasted vaguely of garlic and was bereft of cilantro. It was neither fiery nor particularly acidic. It was, in a word, underwhelming when held up for comparison to the gutsier street salsas. Until it wasn’t. It’s perfection hit me like a bolt of lightening with my first bite of tortilla filled with warm queso and flor de calabaza.
There, on that little taco, with it’s milky, dulcet cheese and gorgeously, tenuously vegetal squash blossoms, the salsa was faultless. After that I couldn’t get enough. And yes, I did ask for a second and third bowl, and I mostly ate it all. It opened my eyes to a more refined, less assertive type of Mexican cooking, something I came to realized was beneath our noses the whole time, a demure subtlety I became attuned to in the remaining days we spent there.
This version of salsa verde cruda is pared down to elemental parts, not meaning at all to be greater than the sum of those parts, but of them instead. What acid it does sport comes from the tomatillos themselves – it doesn’t need any more. The finished salsa is reminiscent of tart green apples, with only a touch of garlic and salt to turn it distinctly savoury.
- ½ lb (225 g) tomatillos, husked, washed and roughly chopped
- Scant ½ tsp (2 mL) sea salt
- 1 Serrano or finger chilli, seeds and ribs removed, roughly chopped
- ½ tsp (2 mL) finely chopped or grated garlic (about 1 small clove)
- Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until salsa is desired consistency. Let stand for 30 minutes or so to allow flavours to blend and mellow. Serve or refrigerate, covered, for up to three days. Return to room temperature before use.
- tacos and tostadas are no-brainers, especially if made with mild milky cheese
- fish sandwiches
- serve alongside whole grilled fish with a pile of cilantro
- use in place of the usual sauce in a shrimp cocktail
- top baked potatoes with creme fraiche, then salsa, then chopped white onions
- fantastic with fatty roast or grilled pork
- killer with grilled scallops