Vail Simply Seasonal: The silent stars of salsa |

Vail Simply Seasonal: The silent stars of salsa

Sue Barham
Simply Seasonal
Vail CO Colorado
Special to the Daily

VAIL – What is it about hot summer days that makes us crave hot, spicy foods? Perhaps the simple fact of an open flame on the grill, smoky aromas wafting in the air. Grilled meats beg for salsas and the varieties and heat factors are infinite.

Tomatillos, also known as Mexican green tomatoes, are the base of many salsas. This quiet fruit brings fresh tang to the combinations of peppers, onions, garlic and spices. The tomatillo resembles a small unripe tomato; it’s typically green or yellow and enclosed in a papery husk. To prepare, remove the inedible husk, rinse the fruit’s slightly sticky skin and cut as desired.

The Aztecs first grew tomatillos as far back as 800 B.C. and they have been popular in Mexico and other Latin American countries for many years. In the U.S., they are mainly grown in Texas. Tomatillos are a rich source of vitamins A and C.

“El Pastor tacos are a summer specialty,” said Jose Calvo, Avondale’s Friday afternoon grillmaster. “The term literally means ‘the way of the shepherd’ or ‘cooked over an open flame’. The traditional method is to marinate pork shoulder in an achiote spice mix for 24 hours. In ancient Mexico, the meat would be threaded on a vertical spit, with a fresh pineapple at the top. It was then placed in a fire pit, and the meat would baste in pineapple juice, adding a sweet flavor and balancing the spicy marinade.”

Adapt this technique for any grilled meat, then add fresh corn tortillas, a variety of salsas and other toppings for a fun, casual dinner. Don’t forget to pick up a bag of the silent stars, tomatillos, at the farmers market to make your salsas.

Arbol Chile Salsa (hot)

16 chiles de arbol

6 large garlic cloves, unpeeled

12 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed


sugar, about 1/2 teaspoon

In an skillet set over medium heat, toast the chiles, stirring until they are very aromatic and slightly darkened. Cover with hot tap water and rehydrate for 30 minutes. In the same skillet, roast the garlic, turning frequently, until soft and darkening, about 15 minutes. Cool and slip off the papery skin. Roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until darkly roasted, about 5 minutes. Flip and roast the other side – 4 or 5 minutes more till splotchy-black and blistered. Cool, then transfer the contents of the baking sheet, including any juices, to a blender. Drain the chiles and add to the tomatillos along with the garlic. Puree and scrape into a serving dish. Stir in enough water to give the salsa a spoonable consistency. Season with salt and sugar. Refrigerated, the salsa keeps for several days. Makes about 1 cup.

Chipotle – Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (medium)

8 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed

3 dried red chipotle chiles (moritas)

1 small white onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick

4 garlic cloves, peeled


1 teaspoon sugar

Roast the tomatillos on a rimmed baking sheet about 4 inches below a very hot broiler until soft and blackened in spots, about 5 minutes per side. Cool, then scrape into a blender jar. Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium, toast the chipotle, stirring until very aromatic, about a minute. Scoop into a small bowl, cover with hot tap water and rehydrate for about 30 minutes. Turn oven to 425 degrees. Spread the onion and garlic on another baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes until the onions are golden with a touch of char on the edges. The garlic should feel soft and be browned in spots. Cool. Drain the chiles and scrape into the blender jar with the tomatillos and a cup of water. Add the onions and garlic and pulse until almost smooth. Stir in enough additional water to give the salsa a spoonable consistency. Season to taste with salt and sugar. Makes 2 cups.

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa (med-hot)

4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and quartered

1 large garlic clove, peeled and quartered

1 jalapeno, minced

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped


Combine tomatillos, garlic, chile and cilantro in a food processor. Add 1/4 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Process to a coarse puree. Season to taste with additional salt, if desired. Serve immediately. Makes 1 cup.

Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur (, at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale ( opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.

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