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July 26, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 4:56 pm

A few months ago, my Dad brought me a few bargains from Borders. Among them was a £3 book on Mexican Cookery. Whilst I’m always up for trying new cuisines, I thought that this particular one was a bit out of my reach. The book described a lot of ingredients I’d never heard of before. For a start, it mentioned more types of chilli than I knew existed, strange vegetables like sliced cactus leaf paddles and a few cheeses I didn’t think I could find.

The book lay unused on my shelf for months. Then, two weeks ago, I was reading the BBC food boards when I saw that Charlotte (from Great Big Vegetable Challenge) had been looking for some cactus and had been pointed in the direction of an interesting company called Cool Chile, which imports a lot of Mexican ingredients and storecupboard items.

The next Friday I visited their stall at Borough Market, hoping to get my hands on the most common items mentioned in my book: tomatillos, corn tortillas and nopales (cactus paddles). The very helpful gentleman running the stall sold me the last two, but he didn’t stock the tomatillos at Borough. Apparently no one bought them. I couldn’t help wondering why.

However, he did point me in the direction of Cool Chile’s Taqueria, which happens to be reasonably close to where I live. So the next morning, I set off, eager to get my hands on the elusive ingredient. I was in for a bit of a shock. This was the can of tomatillos I found.

tomatillo can

I don’t think that picture does it justice. I think this one puts things in perspective.

huge can

Apparently tomatillos are only imported into Britain in cans about twice the size of my head! No wonder they weren’t sellingfast at Borough. These things weigh around 3 kg. Still, I was determined to have my tomatillos, so I bought them anyway. Then the shop assistant told me they didn’t have any carrier bags. :roll:

So I walked the three miles back to my flat with my tomatillos cradled in my arms like an oversized baby, getting some very strange reactions from passers by. A few people pointed and laughed. Someone even tried hitting on me. Apparently the thing to do if you’re single and really desperate in London, is walk around with a large can of tomatillos. You’ll attract Goldhawk Road weirdos by the dozen.  :roll: By the time I got back home, my arms really ached and my throat was a bit sore from yelling at the weirdos to get lost.

The irony is that I still haven’t used the tomatillos. For my first attempt at Mexican cookery, I fancied beef enchiladas and, from what I saw in books and online, tomatillo wasn’t the best accompaniment. I’m saving them now for chicken and tomatillo burritos.

So, what did I make for my first Mexican style meal? Well, beef enchiladas like I said,

beef enchiladas

a salsa made from mango, finely diced white onion, lime juice, lime zest, green chilles and coriander leaf,

mango lime salsa

nopales and red pepper salad,

nopales salad

and sweet corn with fried onions and cream.

creamed corn

It was an interesting meal to make. Each particular dish was easy in itself but co-ordinating the lot was a bit challenging. I started early by making the beef.  I sweated off one finely diced onion with 2 cloves of garlic and 3 chopped green birds eye chillies. Then I added 500g of chopped braising steak and browned it. I put the lot in a casserole dish with a about a level tablespoon of  ground cumin, ground coriander, dried oregano and paprika,  then covered the meat with beef stock, added salt and pepper and let it braise slowly at 130C for about 5 hours. While it was in the oven, I made the the creamed corn and let my tinned nopales soak in fresh water to remove the salt from them.

After that I took the beef out of the oven, poured off most of the liquid and shredded the beef. It had picked up the flavours from the spices very well so I didn’t add any more. I just put a dollop in the middle of each of my 8 corn tortillas and rolled them up into enchiladas. These went into a baking dish and were topped with sour cream and grated mild cheddar (as a substitute for Monterey Jack) and baked until the cheese bubbled.

While the enchiladas cooked I quickly assembled the salad and salsa. The salsa was literally just the ingredients mentioned above, mixed together in a bowl. The salad was made from grilled, skinned and sliced red pepper, thinly sliced red onion and the nopales slices in a dressing made from a chile and garlic oil and white wine vinegar. The nopales had an interesting flavour that’s hard to describe. They were very slightly bitter and quite leafy but had a bit of a salty tang from being pickled. Their texture was like cooked runner beans. We liked them a lot.

I’d have liked to submit the tomatillos to Weekend Herb Blogging this week, but since I haven’t yet cooked with them, I’ll have to talk about the nopales instead. Nopales are the paddles of the prickly pear cactus. Over here they are sold pickled in brine. Apparently these things are full of vitamins and fibre, which is very useful as they are very tasty too!

For more information on nopales, see the Wikipedia entry.

mexican dinner

This week, Weekend Herb Blogging is hosted by Anna from Anna’s Cool Finds. Head over there to see the round up on Monday. 


  1. You mean you never tried those Old El Paso Enchilada kits?! tsk tsk! :)

    Its funny you should mention this, because I just this second asked terryturbojnr if he’d seen tomatillos for sale - i see them a lot in American recipes.

    My parents had a phase when they came back from france where they used fresh cactus leaves, shredded runner-bean-style, in salads. I wasn’t a fan, they were slimy…

    Comment by Schmoofaloof — July 27, 2007 @ 3:53 pm

  2. Oh Ros, what a pity you didn’t come to the Mexican cooking day the bloggers had last year!! Tons and tons of inspiration, and we managed to source quite a lot of fresh ingredients too, including tomatillas. You can read more about it on my blog here http://www.cooksister.com/2006/10/cocina_mexicana.html

    My absolute favourite thing to do with tomatillas is salsa verde - it is delicious as a dip or a sauce with Mexican dishes - so refreshing. And freshly made tastes sooooo much better than pre-packed. I was a bit wary the first time I tried nopales, but they are actually rather nice - kind of like dill pickles with a difference. My friend Iliana brings them back from Mexico in her luggage!

    Comment by Jeanne — July 27, 2007 @ 5:31 pm

  3. That’s an interesting dinner you’ve got there, Ros. The array of colours, flavours and textures is very intriguing. We had a Mexican food supplier come to our college for a practical demonstration a while ago. He made some great bits and bobs for us to try, and gave out a few goodies. I was lucky enough to get some dried hibiscus leaves, which are infused into boiling water, sweetened and drank as a kind of “tea” in Mexico. I followed along those lines but added some gelatin to turn it into a jelly. I can tell you I got a few looks from fellow chefs when I made the rest into hibiscus ice cubes and served them as canapés for the guests of our VERY French fine dining restaurant!

    Comment by Trig — July 29, 2007 @ 5:50 pm

  4. Hi Schmoof. Hah! I had forgotten about the Old El Paso mixes. I used them in my undergraduate days a couple of times when a bunch of us cooked together. The nopales we had weren’t at all slimy. Maybe the brine helped their texture.

    Hi Jeanne, sadly that event happened beforeI discovered your blog! Which reminds me, you’re having an event next month aren’t you. I’m determined to not miss out this time- I still can’t believeI forgot about the Henley picnic! I nearly made salsa verde but I went with the mango as some site suggested it. Next time though….

    Hi Trig. We enjoyed the dinner a lot and even though there were lots of different flavours and textures there, nothing seemed out of place. The creamed corn seemed superflous in the end, but not actively bad. All the rest worked very well togehter. I’ve seen those hibiscus leaves at Cool Chile, they certainly look intriguing.

    Comment by ros — July 30, 2007 @ 4:00 pm

  5. Everything you made looks delicious, especially your lovely mango salsa. I’ve had nopales in restaurants, but haven’t really cooked with them. Tomatillos are delicious, with a flavor similar to green tomatoes. I’ve grown them in my garden before and they’re quite easy to grow. Have fun learning more about Mexican cooking!

    Comment by Kalyn — July 31, 2007 @ 9:00 pm

  6. Hi Kalyn, I wonder whether tomatillos would grow over here. I suspect it istoo cold without a greenhouse. I’m looking forward to trying y tinned ones anyway.

    Comment by ros — August 1, 2007 @ 5:21 pm

  7. What a big can of Tomatillos you’ve got there, If you want a bit more variety and better value for money, next time try http://www.mexgrocer.co.uk They have several brands and sizes of Tomatillos from Mexican family staple La Costena to newcomer Carey. They also have Fresh tomatillos for a limited season only. If you want Authentic Mexican Food then these guys are the best the UK has.

    Comment by SollyBear — August 30, 2007 @ 11:34 pm

  8. Tomatillos grow very well here. A I’m utterly addicted to salsa verde and mexican cooking and can’t bring enough cans and jars across when we visit Mexico I grow a lot of mexican ingrediants on my allotment. (Serrano, jalapeno, habanero, pasilla and poblano Chillis, epazote, tomatillo, quilquillana herbs etc.) Tomatillos can be grown like tomatoes - start in a heated propagator preferably,pot on and keep under cover until all frosts have passed. Don’t nip out the lateral shoots - thats where they fruit. You can then plant them outside. Provide a cane and wire or string framework - they’re sprawly tall plants with long lateral side shoots. The flowers are yellow and quite pretty. The fruits grow inside a papery husk that dries out and splits as the fruits swell. They’re ready when the fruit has filled and split the husk (generally the size of a medium to small tomato - although much bigger the mexican markets.) Three cheers for the mexgrocer at Stockport - excellent choice. Also there’s a deli and mail order company in Glasgow called Lupe Pinto with excellent website and range of mexican ingredients.

    Comment by Elaine Knox — January 30, 2008 @ 1:55 pm

  9. tomatillos will grow in england in a greenhouse or polytunnel. had loads in2008

    Comment by kate brown — December 31, 2008 @ 10:09 pm

  10. I came across your site whilst looking for tomatillos myself, I wanted them for the smoky chipotle salsa:


    I just read that you char-grill them so I don’t think tinned is the way to go in this particular case. I’ve heard rumours of them being available at Brixton market…the search continues.

    Comment by compostchris — September 17, 2009 @ 10:14 am

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