If you find yourself in a tomatillo patch before the fruit is ready, you’ll see a fleet of lime-green paper lanterns, each self-inflated around a tiny green fruit at its top. As the tomatillo grows, it fills the lantern, eventually occupying the full sphere. When a tomatillo is bright green and its walls touch the lantern, it’s young but okay to eat. These bright green tomatillos are very tart and crisp, and their skin is sticky. As the tomatillo continues to ripen, the fruit turns pale yellow and bursts out of its lantern, which first dries out and goes brown, then disintegrates into a husk like an abandoned snakeskin. Fully mature tomatillos are often harvested right from the ground, where they fall to tell us they’re ready to become salsa. If you’re buying tomatillos at the farmers’ market or supermarket, you’ll often find them at this point—pale greenish yellow with a few bits of husk still clinging to them.
And mostly, salsa is what they do become. Tomatillos are a staple in many Central and South American cuisines, and while they’re edible raw, they’re often roasted or grilled before being blended into salsa verde.
I find that roasted tomatillos have a particular affinity for black beans, and that’s how this chili came about. It is a fairly spicy chili and makes use of single-chile powder, which is different from mixed chili powder. But if your spice meter is lower, reduce or omit the chile powder.
- Yield: 8 Servings
- 2 pounds tomatillos (15 to 20), separated from their husks and quartered
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed or sunflower, plus more as needed
- 1 pound ground turkey, chicken, or beef
- 2 cups chopped onions (1 to 2 onions)
- 1 cup chopped celery (from about 2 stalks)
- 2 jalapeño peppers (or other hot peppers), seeded and finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried chipotle chile powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic (3 to 5 cloves)
- 6 cups cooked black beans in their liquid (from about 1 pound of dried black beans) or 3 15-ounce cans beans, drained
- For serving: Grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, hot sauce, sour cream or crème fraîche, lime wedges, diced avocado
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and arrange the tomatillos on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the tomatillos with salt and roast until they collapse and begin to color, 25 to 30 minutes. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the ground meat and cook, stirring often, until it releases liquid, reabsorbs it, and begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add a bit more oil if the pan dries out. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the onions, celery, jalapeños, chile powder, cumin, oregano, and 1 tablespoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until the whole mixture softens and shrinks, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring often, for another 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatillos and any liquid that has gathered on the baking sheet. Stir in the beans, and bring the mixture to a low boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a low simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have melded together, about 30 minutes. Add a bit of black bean liquid or water if the chili gets too thick. Continue to add bean liquid to achieve the texture you prefer. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve with copious toppings on the side.