Trouble-Free Tomatillo

I live in Arizona, so fresh tomatillos are actually pretty easy to come by. I definitely could have cooked a recipe to check this vegetable off the list. However, I am surrounded by a plethora of Mexican and New Mexican restaurants, so why not go the easy route? I figure commercial success is enough of a recommendation for me!

Cafe Rio is a “Fresh Mex” restaurant similar to Chipotle and Uberrito where you order in an assembly line. (It’s a national chain, so it’s likely you’re familiar.) Their claim to fame is the fresh, handmade tortillas which you see in production live. These can be fashioned into burritos or quesadillas, but my favorite is the salad. The tortilla is piled high with rice, beans, your choice of protein (sweet pork is a popular option), and of course, lettuce. They offer two choices for salad dressing–a cilantro lime vinaigrette and creamy tomatillo. The latter is a pale green ranch-style concoction.

If you’ve read my first blog entry A Gauntlet is Thrown, you’ll know I’m not a huge fan of ranch. I can eat it sparingly, but I’d rather have a salad plain than doused in dressing. In fact, I used to order my sweet pork salads at CafĂ© Rio sans dressing because the sauce was enough liquid and flavor for me. However, they often slipped a container of default dressing into my To Go orders, and eventually curiosity won out.

I dipped a fork into the dressing, then loaded the tines with salad so I could just taste a hint. To my surprise, it was delicious! It had a little heat which, based on the knockoff recipes I’ve researched, probably comes from a little jalapeno. I could also definitely taste extra cilantro, which I love. However, it was a little hard to pin down what exact flavor the tomatillo adds. As Leslie pointed out, there is so much else going on there!

To further our understanding, I decided to purchase a raw tomatillo to sample. I’ve never heard or seen of tomatillos being eaten raw, but I figured that was the best way to experience the pure, undiluted flavor. It was NASTY! I literally spit it out into the garbage. The overwhelming sensation was sour, with undertones of peppery zip. Imagine a cross between a green tomato and a green bell pepper, neither of which I would eat uncooked and by itself. Now, it makes perfect sense that I’d only ever seen tomatillos as an accent flavor in sauces and salsas.

Speaking of salsa, I did also purchase a canned salsa verde to try out the same night as the raw tomatillo. Theme night, right? I’m sure it tasted exactly as it should, but it’s just not my type of salsa. It’s certainly not something I would just dip a chip in and go to town. I tried it on top of the white enchiladas I’d made for dinner, and it was fine, but I wouldn’t choose to have it again. Christina loves salsa verde, so she happily drizzled her enchiladas and raved about the combo.

I’m still counting tomatillo as a success, however. First of all, I did consume it, which fulfills the Challenge. I even tried several forms (raw, cooked, hot, cold, etc.). I also discovered that I do like it, but only in extremely sparing amounts combined with lots of other flavors (e.g. the salad). Knowing that I don’t love tomatillos is just as valuable as if I’d discovered that I do. It will still guide my menu choices, but now I know to try a bite off someone else’s plate instead of gamble on the whole entree.

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