On using things up


Banner year for the tomatillos

It’s an odd time in the garden and in our food storage systems.  We’re preparing for the onslaught that is the summer produce season, and we’re cleaning out our stored goods to make room for the new things.  And some things are ripening when others are not:  my peppers and tomatillos, for example, are going great guns whilst the tomatoes are only hinting at turning red.  And some stored goods are just plain GONE, like the all-important foostuff that is SALSA.

I took advantage of our daughter’s overnight trip to her grandparents’ to make a very hot and tasty soup that made use of both the new produce and the frozen/canned stuff that needed to be used up.  At the same time, I made an emergency quart or two of some mostly tomatillo salsa, with jalapenos and yellow Hungarian peppers, corn and canned green (color, not ripeness) tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, vinegar and fresh onions.   She won’t object to something spicy if she doesn’t get to eat it!  And both the soup and the salsa were nice and fiery.

This soup takes a while, both in prep and in time cooking it; if you are bound to spend your days in the kitchen anyway, this is a great soup to make while you’re doing other things.  You can skip the chicken if you want a vegetarian soup, but I would add some olive oil and some cooked white beans for fat and protein.

El’s Hellfire Tortilla Soup*

serves 4-6

Soup base:

  • 3-4 small jalapenos or other hot pepper
  • 7-8 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • 10 or so peppercorns
  • a 2″ piece of cinnamon stick
  • one medium yellow onion, cut into thin rings
  • one medium sweet red pepper, seeded and cut into thin rings

You are going to make a paste of these items, caramelized and roasted, above.  In one small cast-iron skillet, place the jalapenos, garlic, peppercorns and cinnamon stick on medium heat and roast until the peppers and garlic cloves are slightly blackened, turning frequently.  You can smash the peppers down with a spatula to ensure all sides get toasty, but don’t burst the pepper itself: it’s steaming nicely on the inside.  Set aside to cool.  Into the bowl of a mortar, squeeze the garlic out of its skin, add the peppercorns and crumble the cinnamon stick; pound to a grind and then add the seeded, lightly chopped peppers and pound to a paste.   In a large cast-iron pan or in a hot oven on a cookie sheet, caramelize the onions and the pepper (use no oil) until the onions are golden and the pepper is cooked through.  Add this and the contents of the mortar to the bowl of a food processor, whiz to a pulp.


  • Chicken:  I used a very large (humongo) breast:  I blanched the breast in a bit of salted water until slightly cooked (about 20 minutes), then I cut the cooled breast into small-ish pieces, adding it back to the broth (about 2 cups of liquid)
  • 1 quart tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon each:  ground cumin, thyme, Mexican oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh corn:  about two ears’ worth, chopped off the cobs
  • 1 green or other mild-ish pepper, diced
  • 2-3 tomatillos, diced
  • 3 or so corn tortillas:  brown them individually in a cast-iron pan then slice into finger-sized pieces
  • minced parsley or cilantro
  • juice of one lime

Add the soup base, chicken, chicken stock, spices, salt and pepper into a large stockpot and bring to a boil; reduce to a very low heat and simmer gently for a couple of hours.  About an hour before serving, add the corn, pepper, and tomatillos and continue cooking.  Check for seasonings and adjust accordingly.   Immediately before serving, fish the bay leaves out of the soup and add the tortillas, parsley/cilantro and lime juice.


  • Green onions
  • Cilantro
  • Sour cream
  • Queso blanco
  • Avocado
  • Lime
  • More roasted, chopped tortillas

*I got the beginnings of this recipe from somewhere but it’s gone in the sands of time.  I changed it enough, anyway, to probably claim it as my own, so that’s what I am doing!

12 responses to “On using things up

  1. Thanks for the recipe. I’ll try it out on the republican child when he’s in for his summer visit; he’s a fiery food lover. He’s remodeling my kitchen, so that might be the first dish cooked on the new stove. He’ll have to add his own chicken though. Actually, his desire for meat-filled dinners started him cooking at an early age. He’s a pretty good cook.

  2. Oh Yum! Tomatillos! I want to plant these next year FOR SURE!

  3. you must have your peppers in your hoop house? our peppers and eggplants are outside (no hoop house – yet!), and they are doing miserably. they’re about the same size as when i put them out a month and a half ago, and a couple of plants have died! i think it’s the cool weather (and hopefully not a black thumb, egads).

    i have hundreds of green tomatoes, sitting on various vines, waiting to turn. it’s torturous.

    recipe looks yummy!

  4. Thank you for this recipe. I have printed it off and plan on making it this week end!


  5. Oh my, now that is a recipe. If I get up the gumption to give it a whirl this fall I’ll make sure and let you know how it turned out. I ran the idea past the hens and they concurred that the vegetarian version would be in their best interest.

    You know, I have been giving your last post some thought and after reading “Grow The Changes” post on community or the lack thereof I realize that even though the Internet community is not the same as meeting people face to face it is the reason I started my blog. It really is hard to find like minded individuals to communicate with, I do not know of one single person that is “really” interested in a similar way of life in this area…are there that few of us?

    I’m glad/lucky to have my wife and Internet comrades in this lonely but oh so fulfilling adventure. Glom onto that neighbor of yours, he is a rarity, as an endangered species I think we must all try to stick together as best as possible.

    Have a most excellent day!

    • Mike, a huge feeling of “aloneness” in what I was doing was the very reason I started blogging too. We’d moved here knowing nobody and we’re introverts so it’s really flipping hard sometimes, plus, nobody around me is doing what we’re doing either. It’s been five years and I still don’t know that many people, though I suppose I have converted a few to gardening thanks to the school’s gardens. But Freija’s post broke my heart today! I completely see what she means, though, and hope that they do find a good place with great people to share their work, share their enthusiasm, share their knowledge with… Me, I guess I am just going to have to keep blogging. My friend I mentioned yesterday lives about 30 miles away, not exactly close enough to borrow a cup of sugar…

  6. “Emergency salsa” – I love it!

  7. Your recipe sounds so good!

  8. That sounds terrific. I love the way you slant the spices and herbs so that it has a Mexican fiery slant — so far, I’ve only managed to do Korean/Thai. I’ll have to try this.

    I did use farmer’s market tomatoes and homegrown jalapenos to make a salsa cruda tonight. Maybe I’ll roast the Anaheims for a dinner of fideos or something tomorrow. Something I can do ahead, anyhow.

    And, just ahead of this year’s blackberry onslaught, I found a bag and a half of huckleberries! I can’t decide between muffins or pancakes. . . or on top of my yogurt. Got to eat the freezer to make room for the new.

  9. No fair!! My tomatillos are still dinky sized.

    Do you notice any strange, slightly bitter taste from yours (mine did last year)? I’ve had to go to the Mexican supermercado to buy them in order to make salsa verde (I’m on a Mexican kick right now).

    I never thought I’d hear myself say this but, I wish it would warm up around here!

  10. Pamela, do try it out on the wayward child. He’ll enjoy it. And I am glad to hear he’s coming to do some housework for you!

    Jules, be warned: I should have added tomatillos into that list of perennial plants! Once you have them you will always have them. And, goodness, you don’t need many plants at all to get a harvest. I have 3 and it’s like, what was I thinking?

    Serinat, oh yes: they’re all in the greenhouses. Nothing else likes it in there, it’s too darned hot. Still, they’re behind too, so don’t feel bad! It IS this cool dry weather and not your skillz!

    Linda, I hope you like it! Improvise at will too.

    Mike, I made a vegetarian version of this soup for a (drunken) work party years ago: our office was doing so badly that we decided to do a potluck holiday party (as opposed to a carnal feast) and it was riotously funny, but that darned soup was really tasty. People kept talking about it.

    Emily, oh yes. Salsa was the one thing I had thought I made enough of last year but I didn’t take into account the gifts I would hand out, or the general family “need” for the stuff. Now I know!

    Lindsay, give it a try. It’s even better the 2nd day.

    Stef, Korean/Thai seem so much of a stretch to me, but Mexican seems a lot more natural. I adore fideos. We have them for breakfast sometime, with eggs. Sounds gross but it’s really quite filling! But I know what you mean about the freezer: I keep finding things too and I am just about driving myself crazy. I need a system but know I will never implement one! We did, however, run out of blueberries ages ago…note to self, more blueberries… You should try making an upside-down skillet corn cake with your berries. The recipe I have uses balsamic vinegar when you cook the berries, then you pour a slurry of a loose cornbread on top of it and cook it slowly, invert it, and YUM. Maybe I will blog about that recipe too once we pick more berries.

    Laurene truth be told most of my tomatillos are dinky too but there are some big ones to be found way down at the bottom of the plants. My daughter loves picking them because she loves squeezing them to find the big ones. But no, no bitter taste; fully ripe ones (the ones that are nearly yellow) are actually almost too sweet to use. Ours are an heirloom called Verde Puebla. But no, no heat please!!!

  11. Lovely blog you have created! I am wishing I had planted tomatillos instead of tomatoes this year. Yours look awesome!
    GartenGrl at Loved it! Totally inspired and an interesting site.One of these days I am going to build a vertical herb garden…
    GartenGrl at
    Planning Plants to Plant

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