I’m not one for surprises, not even the good kind. I’m a planner, an anticipator. If you’re going to whisk me away to Paris for the weekend, I want to know about it, so that I can pack accordingly — so that I can check the forecast and lay out the five-piece mix-and-match wardrobe and shop for shoes, sensible but chic.
But there is a bi-weekly surprise I can’t help but sign myself up for: my local produce co-op. Surprises pertaining to fresh fruit and vegetables don’t hold quite the same stipulation for anxiety. It’s delightful really, that smidge of mystery, a hands-clapped-together case of expectation. (I must admit that if I could actually sign myself up for the Paris surprise, I would. Mais, tant pis, it’s just not an option.)
Some weeks I get giddy just thinking about it, about the possibilities of red leaf lettuce and avocados, the potential promise of haricot verts and nectarines. I never know what Brian will bring home early on co-op Saturday mornings, charcoal-grey recycled PET totes brimming. It’s serious inspiration for the cook in me: I sort through the produce and plan menus, ticking off in my head and on paper the things I can make. I rifle through cookbooks piled on my counter, my elbows propped, chin in hand, as I turn pages in search of a preparation that strikes me, mulling over the many ways to make asparagus anew (crudi this time in a salad? Or roasted and topped with an egg just poached?), or to find out what on earth one does with a bagful of fuyu persimmons.
There is this singular drawback: If I have a recipe in my file I’d really, really like to make, and it contains, say butternut squash, but the co-op isn’t offering squash at all that week, I just have to keep that recipe stashed for another time. But the economics of it all outweigh any disappointment.
This last basket threw me for a loop, though: Giant green chile-looking things, along with some smaller (inevitably hotter) ones. Were the large ones just green chile peppers? Were the smaller ones jalapenos or serranos (bingo!, that one)? I’ve eaten this stuff before, but I’ve never bought it, never prepared it myself. I had to Google images to learn that those outsized ones were poblanos: mild, I discovered, supposedly good roasted.
Enabled by my freshly repaired oven (jumping-up-and-down-hoooraay!!), I roasted the poblanos and the tomatillos and the serranos, then simmered it all (with onions, toasted pepitas, a showering of Mexican oregano) into a salsa complete with chopped cilantro and more than a slight suggestion of lime.
It’s been feeding us all week: plopped atop salmon, as a sort-of enchilada sauce, spread on toasted pitas. And the remaining roasted chiles have gone into a Mex-style macaroni and cheese, for starters. Yes, we’re feeling hot, hot, hot…
Cooked Tomatillo Salsa
(adapted from “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,” by Mark Bittman)
This is a fairly mild salsa; Add more serranos or other hot chiles if you don’t have little naysayers at your table. The recipe requires some advanced prep work: toasting the pepitas and roasting the chiles.
10 to 12 tomatillos, husked and chopped
2 tbsp canola oil
2 large onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 C green pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted in a dry skillet and finely chopped in a food processor
2 medium poblano chiles, roasted and cleaned (short on time, I stuck mine under the broiler for 20 minutes, turning after the first 10)
1 to 2 serrano or other hot green chiles, roasted and cleaned
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano (regular oregano is fine, too)
1 cup water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ C chopped fresh cilantro
¼ C freshly squeezed lime juice
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet until skins are lightly browned and blistered, about 20 minutes. When tomatillos have cooled, chop them finely, along with the chiles, in a food processor to conserve the juices.
While the tomatillos are cooling, heat the canola oil in a large skillet over easy medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatillos, pepitas, chiles, oregano, water and large pinches of salt and pepper. Stir and bring to a low simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is slightly thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Finish with the cilantro and lime juice, adjusting to taste.