Just after Thanksgiving this past year, my mom and step-dad went on a trip to Sedona, Arizona. I don’t think they had been there before, and they went to try out some new photography skills by utilizing the breathtaking landscape and visiting the Grand Canyon nearby.
While they were there, they had a meal at Elote Cafe in Sedona. They had such a marvelous time there and so enjoyed the food that they decided to purchase the restaurant’s cookbook.
During the Christmas holiday, myself and my sisters oohed and aahed over their beautiful new cookbook and immediately wanted to know where they had found it. They told us all about the cafe in Sedona, how much they loved the food there, and how they just had to pick up the cookbook before leaving. As we all thumbed through the beautifully photographed pages, I mentally put it on my “to be purchased” list. I figured I could come up with a reason for getting it later (I sort of have a habit of amassing too many cookbooks…heck…too many books in general).
So you can imagine, when about a week or so later…my mom handed me a copy of the Elote Cafe Cookbook while I was at my office. I was so excited to try it out, I immediately told my husband that afternoon that we were going to pick something out to make from it before heading to the grocery store after work.
That evening, as we drove to the grocery store, my husband began scanning the book, trying to decide what we should try first. I pulled into the parking space in front of our local Safeway, and we sat in the half-light of the car, narrowing down recipes to try.
We settled on the Shrimp Chilaquiles recipe, mostly because it looked rather simple to make, with only minimal effort involved. After a long day at work, neither of us wanted to spend an extra long time making dinner. The recipe involved making a tomatillo sauce…which is a sauce I have always loved but have never made. For some reason, when I saw the instructions for making it in the recipe, it was so simple that it only dawned on me later that’s what it was.
The chilaquiles turned out wonderfully that evening, but that’s not what this post is about. The real star of that recipe was the one within it for the tomatillo sauce. I have since made the sauce on its own at least three other times, using it for topping on my husband’s signature nachos, and I recently made enchiladas with my mom using the sauce. Each time I have made it, it comes out better. Here it is:
Tomatillo Sauce “Salsa Verde” (part of the Shrimp Chilaquiles recipe of the Elote Cafe Cookbook):
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 arbol chiles
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
8 tomatillos, husked
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan to medium high and sauté the chiles, onion, and garlic until softened. Add the stock, salt, oregano, and tomatillos (whole). Bring to a simmer, and cook until tomatillos are soft. Purée.
~ from page 129 of the Elote Cafe Cookbook
Let me tell you, this sauce is positively divine.
I will say that I made a couple of adjustments to the recipe for my own purposes. I couldn’t find arbol chiles in my local Safeway – which is just a shame because I’m in Cali-freaking-fornia. (Yeah, I know I should have gone to a more traditional Mexican market, but there isn’t one nearby and the first time I made this I only had Safeway as an option…’cause you know…dinner and everything). But whatever. I substituted with two large jalapeños and a large Pasilla chile and it worked fine for me. I’m not sure if swapping out random chiles like that would work for every one, but the combination of the Pasilla chiles and the jalapeños worked fine for my own tastes. If you’re concerned about spiciness in a dish like this, take out the seeds and the spine in the chiles (that’s where the spice lives), and you’ll get a milder taste out of them.
I found that the easiest way to purée the sauce is by using a wand blender right in the pot, so you should probably use a stainless steel one or whatever kind you have that does not have a non-stick coating on it. Chances are, the wand blender won’t actually scratch the surface, but it’s best to be safe than sorry.
The entire process takes a bit of investment in time, but it’s totally worth it. The tomatillos began to fall apart (for me anyway) after about 20 min of simmering. That really is the longest part of making the sauce. If you’ve never worked with tomatillos before, it’s worth noting that when you peel the husks off them (they come off very easily), they are a little bit…sticky. You should wash your hands after you’re done peeling them, as the sticky residue might irritate your fingertips a little bit. It’s not bad or anything, but it’s something to keep in mind. A good hand-washing will take that residue right off your hands.
Anyway, I was very proud of myself when I finished making the sauce, and as I said before, it came out just great. It’s especially good for enchiladas (in my humble opinion), but is great on nachos and the original chilaquiles recipe is so awesome that my husband was practically licking his plate.
I’m really looking forward to trying more from this book – and the next time I’ll make the effort to stop at a traditional Mexican market if need be.