Saturday, February 16, 2013

Salsa Verde: Guatemalan Green Sauce

In the early 1970s I had never heard of Green Sauce. I moved to Guatemala and lived there for 12 years, so I learned a lot about green sauce and ways it is used in that country. What I didn’t know is how many different countries all have a version of a green sauce, with only the color in common. From a rustic mix of green chiles, anchovies, capers and lemon zest, to a combination of greens like sorrel or spinach with other flavoring ingredients, these sauces are versatile.

Tomatillos (called "Miltomates" in Guatemala)
My recipe for Guatemalan green sauce, or Salsa Verde, is just one of many, and is quite similar to the Mexican version. The basis of my sauce is tomatillos. Similar to "ground cherries", tomatillos look like small green tomatoes with a husk. The husk is peeled and discarded, and the tomatillos may be used just as for tomatoes, either raw or cooked. Tomatillos can be used as a basis for a raw salsa, just as for a tomato salsa used for dip. They may also be combined into a tomato salsa, if desired. Their flavor is tart, much like a green tomato. They may be cooked or canned the same as tomatoes, giving the ability to use them at any time.

Salsa Verde, or Green Sauce

Finished Green Sauce
Makes about 3 cups sauce

1 pound tomatillos, husks removed
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
1 to 6 jalapenos, optional
1 large green bell pepper, seeds and membranes removed, roughly chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped, or about 1½ cups
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup each parsley and cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, stripped from stems
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon allspice

Place tomatillos, onion quarters and jalapenos if using, on a baking sheet. Preheat the broiler with the rack in its highest position. Broil the vegetables until charred, about 4 to 5 minutes, then turn them over and broil for another 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the tomatillos and onion to a blender container. Remove stems from the jalapenos and seeds, if you prefer less heat. Place the bell pepper on the baking sheet and blister the bell pepper until blackened on all sides. Once blackened, place into a zip-top bag, sealed, to steam. Once cooled enough to handle, peel and remove seeds and membranes. Add to the blender. Set the celery and garlic on the baking sheet and broil until the garlic is browned, but not black on all sides, and the celery is cooked and wilted.  Add these to the blender,
along with the cilantro and parsley, thyme leaves, salt, pepper and allspice. Blend briefly, to combine.

Pour this sauce into a saucepan and simmer for about 8 to 10 more minutes, until flavors meld.

One of the uses for this sauce in Guatemala is to make what is called Pollo in Jocon. A whole chicken is cup up and cooked in water with salt and onion. Once cooked, the pieces are browned in butter or oil and then the Green Sauce is poured over and allowed to cook and meld flavors. Bay leaf may be added while it is cooking with the chicken. Some will grind a corn tortilla or two and add to the sauce, both as flavor and thickening.

This Green Sauce is also delicious simply as a dip for chips. It can be used to pour over tortillas rolled up with chicken or other meat inside and baked. Some cheese over top would be a great addition. The sauce can be used as a braising sauce for a beef roast or pork roast with a long, slow cooking time. It would be delicious over poached or grilled fish as well, possibly with the addition of lemon or lime zest. Whatever you choose to cook, this sauce is delicious and healthy. I am going to make the "Pollo en Jocon" recipe tomorrow, so pictures will be coming soon.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.