If you read a tourist guide of San Diego or just walk through the streets of some of the more popular neighborhoods like North Park or Hillcrest you get the impression that the culinary scene of this city covers a wide variety of restaurants. There are many variations of “Western” influenced restaurants, like Italian or French but also many “Asian“ restaurants ranging from Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese to Thai. You will also find many unique restaurants using the outstanding produce of this region and showcasing the world class beer scene of San Diego but one cuisine is strangely at the same time under- as well as overrepresented in San Diego – Mexican. San Diego is in a unique location as it forms a large bi-national/transborder community with Tijuana and one would expect that this would also have a significant impact on the variety of the Mexican cuisine in San Diego. You can find some kind of taco shop at nearly every street or shopping mall in San Diego but otherwise one would get the impression that the Mexican diet only consists of tacos and burritos and hardly anything else. There are a few unique Mexican restaurants throughout San Diego representing less Americanized versions of Mexican food but it took us quite some time to realize it before we slowly started to explore it. The books from Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless were very helpful guides to get a better understanding of the vast variety of regional culinary differences in Mexico and its unique use of unusual ingredients and flavors not often found in Western and Asian cuisines.
If you visit one of the ubiquitous taco shops in San Diego you will always find a salsa bar to dress up your tacos or burritos and part of it will be some kind of salsa verde. Salsa verde has often a very interesting and complex flavor including some tartness with floral undertones. One of the key ingredients for salsa verde are tomatillos, one of these unusual ingredients associated with Mexico and not found as much in other cuisines. Tomatillos might look like green unripe tomatoes and both plants belong to the nightshade family but tomatillos are actually related to cape gooseberries.
Tomatillos with their unusual papery husk were domesticated by the Aztecs more than three thousand years ago and remained all the time an important food staple in this region. The culinary use of tomatillos is quite broad ranging from raw as a salad ingredient to jams and marmelades to cooked in stews and sauces for meats. For our first own use of tomatillos we decided to cook them appropriately in a Mexican inspired Pork and Tomatillo Stew.
Instead of using only tomatillos in the braising liquid as the main flavor component we decided to go for a more complex flavor profile supporting and at the same time balancing out the tartness and fruitiness of the tomatillos by incorporating tomatoes, orange juice and beer into the stew. The pork turned out to be as fork tender as expected in such a stew but initially the stew overall had a stronger tartness than expected and the desired counterbalancing fruitiness was subdued and hardly noticeable. One of the golden rules of braising is to rest stews overnight so that the flavors can blend together but we hardly ever do it with our stews as we don’t think that the overall flavor improves significantly. But the exception proves the rule as with this stew it was critical to rest it overnight. Eaten on the same day the stew was good but nothing exceptional. Once we reheated it the next day all the flavors came together and we had a wonderful balanced stew without any overwhelming tartness. It made for a very satisfying Mexican influenced dinner when served together with rice and lime-spiked sour cream.
Combine tomatillos, tomatoes, beer and orange juice in a pot bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
Heat oil in pot over medium high heat, add garlic and cook for two minutes until garlic is golden brown.
Add pork in batches and cook for 8 minutes, turning occasionally, until brown, remove to bowl.
Add onions to pot over medium heat and cook for 8 minutes.
Add tomatillo mixture, pork, cilantro, jalapeno, 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp black pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer partially covered for two hours.
Season stew with salt and pepper. Add kidney beans and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Mix lime juice with sour cream and serve stew with white rice and sour cream.
Recipe adapted from “Gourmet Today”
900 g (2 lbs) boneless pork should, cut into 1.5 inch cubes
4 tbsp canola oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled
350 ml (12 ounces) Chimay Red
450 g (1 lb) tomatillos, husked, washed and quartered
1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes, drained, juice reserved and chopped
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 can (16 oz) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp lime juice
225 g (8 oz) sour cream