It conjures the same feelings as bumping into an ex-lover. The one that got away. The one, who, after enough time has passed and the not-so-good moments are forgotten, evokes only fond memories and nostalgia — ‘If onlys’ and ‘What ifs.’ Maybe there’s a chance. So you put the past behind you and give it another shot. And then you remember why you ended it in the first place. That you were better off apart. This pretty much sums up my relationship with the tomatillo. Those husky fruits that aren’t quite a tomato and definitely not a sweetie like a gooseberry or ground cherry tease me into thinking about what could be, then dash hopes, leaving me confused and disappointed. Fall after fall, this what we do, the tomatillo and I. The first time we were introduced, thanks to a bunch showing up in my CSA basket several years ago, I didn’t quite know what to make of them. It certainly wasn’t love at first sight. Once I was set straight on this staple of Mexican cuisine, I had happy visions of salsa verde in my mind’s eye. Just me, a bag of corn chips and bowl of chopped tomatillos, cilantro, onions and hot peppers. Really, could it be more perfect?
Why Tomatillo Soup is better than Salsa
Despite my best efforts, things never really went smoothly with the salsa making. It was awkward, actually. The salsa would turn into gelatinous goo, congealing and never being the juicy, flavourful chip dip I could buy in the grocery store or eat at my local Mexican restaurant. Disappointed, I’d move on. Winter would come and I’d be distracted by root vegetables. Come spring, I had asparagus to take my mind off my disappointment. When tomatoes began ripening, tomatillos seemed but distant memory. But then fall would come again and there they’d be again, offering themselves up for another try. And try I would, only to have a similar experience. More congealing. More salsa verde that just wasn’t what I expected. More hopes shattered. I began asking people for advice and getting furrowed brows in return. Not even a single platitude was thrown my way to give me hope. (This weekend, though, someone tipped me off to what might have been causing such strife: the tomatillo’s naturally occurring, bountiful pectin). It seemed obvious. Clearly, it was me and not the tomatillos. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t just couldn’t change the tomatillo and the resulting, goopy salsa verde. It was getting too hard to carry on like this when I found another pound in my CSA basket a couple of weeks ago. This was no happy reunion. I feigned indifference at the sight of them and tucked them into the back of my fridge. I briefly thought about trying to rekindle things but there was no point. The heartbreak of salsa verde another failed attempt that I churned out just a few weeks ago, was still too fresh. These latest tomatillos could rot for all I cared. And then, the tomatillo and I had a moment over lunch in a downtown St. Catharines cafe when I asked what the soup of the day was. Tomatillo, I was told. I was skeptical but curious. I’d never had tomatillo soup before. Never even heard of it. Maybe this was the way the tomatillo was meant to be — at least my tomatillos, anyway. Of course, the soup was perfect. None of the performance issues tomatillos had with me seemed apparent in the spicy batch of pureed green gems. It had its tell-tale tangy taste with a kick but no congealing. I was convinced it was time to try again and so that night, I came home to set about souping up those tomatillos I shoved to the back of my fridge. Good thing they store well in cool, dry conditions. It was time to repair this relationship. I went online in search of recipes and like a good therapist, they offered up challenges that would make or break me and the tomatillo once and for all. The how-tos had meat or dairy in them, both no-nos for me. But I was confident that with the combining of some directions here and tweaking of others there, I could make a spicy tomatillo soup that was truly my own. That would bring out the best in me and my tomatillos. It did, with its heat, tang and smokiness. It was a powerhouse in the flavour department even if the colour was more akin to a prop in The Exorcist, making it an unappealing food photo subject. Still, it didn’t turn into gelatinous goo and I didn’t even scrub their sticky green and purple skins very hard. It just felt… easy. Finally. Let’s just say the tomatillo and I, well, we’re on again. We’re tight. And I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon.
Spicy Tomatillo Soup
This soup is a perfect way to use those prolific tomatillos. It's warming and zippy with smokiness and gentle heat.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound tomatillos, husked, cleaned and roughly chopped
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1-2 chipotle peppers or jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped (use 2 peppers if you like it hot, 1 if you like it less so)
- 4 cups of vegetable broth
- Salt to taste
- A good shot of hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco or No. 7 to taste (optional)
- Chipotle-infused oil for serving (optional)
- 2 tablespoons Chopped cilantro for serving (optional)