Even after almost two years in Mexico, I still like to buy salsa out of a jar. (Hey, it’s convenient.) But because this is the Week of Huauzontles, and the huauz requires so much care, I figured it’d be worth it to make a salsa molcajeteada — a salsa where you grind everything in a molcajete, and the ingredients come together because of your own strength and patience.
Mixing huauzontles and tomatillos was not entirely my idea. Yuri whipped it up in cooking class a few weeks ago, using huauzontles leftover from a soup we were preparing. He boiled tomatillos and serrano chiles and ground them up in a blender, and then stirred in the huauz. The result was so good that I slathered it inside a tortilla and ate it alone as a taco.
You might be asking: but can’t I just use a blender to make this salsa, too? Yuri did!
Yuri has magic blending powers, because when I tried to make a similar salsa in my own blender, it was watery and too acidic. The molcajete allowed me much more control over the texture. I kept a few pieces of tomatillo cáscara, and added roasted onion and garlic to mellow out the flavor a bit. An allspice berry, known in Spanish at pimienta gorda (literally, “fat peppercorn”) gave it just a whisper of a curry-like, cumin-cinnamon taste.
A typical tomatillo salsa has a well-balanced mix of acid and heat, and the huauzontles here don’t mess with that. They do add one key element, however: texture. The little flowery buds provide heartiness, and an almost artichoke-broccoli-like chewiness. It’s like eating a really good, spicy pasta sauce.
I served this over tortillas sandwiched together with refried beans, topped with a fried egg. Today I’ll probably eat the leftovers in a taco.
Salsa de tomate verde con huauzontles
(Tomatillo salsa with huazontles)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Note: What Americans think of as a tomatillo — a green tomato in a papery husk — has two names in Mexico, based on the fruit’s size. The tomate verde (literally, “green tomato”) is around the size of a plum (perhaps slightly larger than an apricot?) and very acidic. The tomatillo (lit., “little tomato”) is usually about the size of a large cherry. It tends to be sweeter. I used tomate verde because that’s what was available. I also refer to it as tomate verde in the recipe below, not tomatillo.
You’ll note that I only roasted my onion and garlic — it’s because I didn’t want my salsa to be too sweet. You’re welcome to roast whatever you see fit. There’s no wrong way to do this salsa, unless you over-blend it and add too much water.
You can find the pimienta gorda at mercados and tianguis. In my cooking class, we used them pretty much every time we make a salsa molcajeteada.
12 ounces (350 grams) tomate verde, peeled and rinsed (see headnote)
2 serrano chiles
2.5-ounce piece of onion (72 grams), or just less than half of a medium onion
1 garlic clove, unpeeled
1 pimienta gorda (see headnote)
About 1/2 teaspoon coarse-ground sea salt
1/4 cup huauzontles, cleaned, boiled and drained
Place tomate verde and serrano chiles in saucepan, and pour just enough water over them to cover. Bring to a slow, rolling boil, and cook until both have turned a dull green color and softened, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Here’s a photo of the tomates, just about the color you’d want them to be. The serranos still need to cook a bit:
While the tomatillos are cooking, roast the whole piece of onion and unpeeled garlic clove on a comal, or over a gas burner, until the skin is blackened in spots.
Remove to a cutting board and chop roughly. Or, if you’re a whiz on the molcajete, leave them whole.
Add your salt and pimienta gorda to the molcajete and grind until powdery. Add the garlic and grind into a paste. Then add the onion, and grind until the onion becomes slick and juicy, and you no longer see large pieces of onion in your molcajete. I still have a bit more grinding to do here, but you pretty much get the gist:
Add the serranos and, using your tejolete, or pestle, break up the thin chile skins as best you can. Then add the tomatillos, one by one, making sure you tear apart their thick skins.
At this point, you can stir in the huauzontles and season with more salt, if needed. Or set it aside and reheat the salsa in a saucepan, in a bit of oil. The salsa is best served warm. It does tend to thicken as it cools, so feel free to add a bit more water to reach your desired consistency.