So you know those family stories that are told and retold so many times that you feel like you remember them, even if you were too young to possibly remember all the details accurately? Well we had a couple in our family, and the ones I remember the best all involve my brother, Alex. I lovingly refer to him as Alejo because sometimes my Dad would call me Emilita and Alex Alejandro, which I subsequently shortened into Alejo.
He’s just a couple years younger than me and was the cutest kid evvverrrr (he doesn’t look too shabby now either!) but was always getting into mischief. He had a bit of a temper that usually got the best of him, especially with burritos or hamburgers that fell apart in his hands.
My all-time favorite Alejo story is the one of those family legends that I probably don’t remember, but I feel like I do. When he was just a small tot, our family went out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. He decided he wanted to partake in the customary chips and salsa that everyone else was happily enjoying, so he took a chip, dipped it in the salsa, and promptly ate it only to start screaming in pain from the salsa’s heat seconds later. My mother comforted him as he calmed down, probably thinking “well, he learned that lesson the hard way” only to see my brother going for a second chip! Again, he dipped it in the salsa, ate it, and began screaming in pain from the heat. To everyone’s surprise, he continued to eat chip after chip despite the fact that he knew that the salsa was hot and that it would cause him to cry in pain when he ate it.
This story explains a lot about who my brother is, even today. Not only does he love a good Mexican meal, but he is adventurous, strong-willed, hilarious, hardworking, and doesn’t let anything hold him back from doing what he wants to do (even his own tears from spicy salsa).
Needless to say, Alejo is still a huge chips and salsa fan. The other day when I whipped up a batch of pleasantly spicy, yet smoky and sour tomatillo chipotle salsa, I couldn’t help but think of my brother and the infamous chips and salsa episode many years ago.
Tomatillo Chipotle Salsa
Tomatillos are related to gooseberries and tomatoes, but are not to be confused with green tomatoes as they are sometimes labeled. They are covered in papery husks that should reveal firm, bright green fruit underneath. They are commonly used in Latin American sauces, and have a fresh, tart, green flavor that is mellowed when cooked.
I like to roast most of the tomatillos, along with onion, garlic, and jalapeño before pureeing them together into a smooth salsa. I then add from finely diced fresh tomatillos and some of the charred onions for a salsa that is complex and balanced with deep, smoky vegetal notes contrasting nicely with the crunch and acidity of raw tomatillos. It is not unlike a salsa/pico de gallo hybrid (without tomatoes of course). If you prefer a more mild salsa, use 1/2 a jalepeno and 1/2 a chipotle and likewise, if you prefer a more spicy salsa feel free to add more jalepenos/chipotles.
It is perfect with corn chips (duh), but also makes a tasty enchilada or “wet burrito” sauce.
Makes 3 cups salsa
1 dried or canned chipotle pepper
10 medium tomatillos, husked and washed
1 small onion, skin on cut into large chunks
1 jalapeño pepper, halved
5-8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)
Reconstitute the chipotle. If using the dried chipotle, pour boiling water over the pepper and allow to soak while you roast the vegetables. If using the canned chipotle, skip this step and continue roasting the vegetables.
Roast the vegetables. Put the oven on broil. Cut 8 of the tomatillos in half and put on a sheet pan, along with the onion, jalapeño, and garlic. Toss the vegetables with a tablespoon on vegetable oil and roast until all are lightly charred. Allow the vegetables to cool on the pan for 10 minutes and then remove the onion and garlic skins. Reserve about ¼ of the roasted onion and set it aside, then put the remaining roasted vegetables, reconstituted or canned chipotle, and salt into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.
Dice the tomatillos and onions. Take the remaining 2 tomatillos and roasted onions and finely dice them. Fold the diced vegetables and lime juice into the pureed salsa and taste for seasoning. The salsa can be served immediately, garnished with the chopped cilantro, or kept for up to 5 days in an airtight container. Serve the salsa at room temperature with chips and/or vegetables for dipping.