(quick note! the Vitamix giveaway is still running, now through September 21.)
In a talk Tim Keller gave at Oxford University last year, he mentioned in passing an interesting observation about food: most of what we eat has had to die to give us life. In other words, to provide us with the nourishment we need to keep going, living food has to stop living and, in its death, become the thing to give us sustenance.
It’s a simple idea but one that has stuck with me. I find myself thinking about it when I open my refrigerator or when I look at the herbs growing on our back deck. It’s relevant when I reach for fresh produce on our counter or when Tim hands me a plate of food to eat. Life comes out of death. Sacrifice surrounds us. And when I look back on the pictures in this post, of a recent weekday when I broiled and blitzed a pound of tomatillos together with a jalapeño pepper and some garlic, I think about this idea then, too.
The first time I had tomatillos, I was halfway through my twenties (so if you’re not a tomatillo regular, know you’re not alone). My Midwestern upbringing brought me well into adulthood with nary an avocado, celeriac or green tomatillo ever crossing my path. Then, in 2009, when I was new to food blogging, trying a CSA because another blogger had suggested I should, I got tomatillos in my CSA box. The cardboard-box half-share I carried back to my car from a pickup spot held tomatoes, leaf lettuce, green onions and two different kinds of tomatillos.
“Tomatoes in shells!” I remember thinking. “How strange.”
At first glance, tomatillos, with their bright, green bodies wrapped in thin, papery husks, could seem a bother. Unlike regular tomatoes, they require an extra step of peeling away paper and washing away sticky residue before use. In America, they’re not as ubiquitous as regular tomatoes, even though, in the A Couple Cooks Podcast from which this salsa recipe comes, Rick Bayless says, in Mexico, they’re the far more popular choice. Ever since I heard him recite his tomatillo salsa recipe from memory on the show, I’ve wanted to make it—and even more so after Alex and Sonja posted a version on their site. So when I saw a fresh supply of tomatillos at the grocery a few weeks ago, I didn’t hesitate.
The thing about tomatillos is, like other fresh ingredients, they demonstrate the law of life from death that surrounds us. This is the way the world works. Seeds go into the ground and die, and, in the dying, become much fruit. Loaves of bread are sliced to eat and become, in their breaking, food that sustains. We as people suffer and break and, in our very humbling and invisibility, get the chance to grow and give.
Generally speaking, there’s not a lot of prestige or honor in being broken or overlooked in society. Dying for the sake of another is not highly esteemed, which is why routine, ordinary work like cleaning the floor under the table for the tenth time can feel so meaningless and small.
Paul Miller, in his book, A Loving Life, says this:
“The moment when you think everything has gone wrong is exactly the moment when the beauty of God is shining through you. True glory is almost always hidden—when you are enduring quietly with no cheering crowd. […] When for the thousandth time you quietly forgive someone who will never know your pain, that is your glory. When you continually do a household chore unthanked and maybe even criticized, that is your glory. Hidden love shreds the ego.”
What if these small things—finishing the project, responding to the email, grocery shopping, cleaning the bathroom, sending in an assignment, folding the laundry, staying home when we’d like to go out, going out when we’d like to stay home, cleaning the mess, answering an email, doing the research—are, in fact, our glory? What if our ideas of what matters are all upside down? When I look at the food we eat, must eat, in order to keep living, and consider how the world is wired to require something to sacrifice for something else to go on, I sense a reality that extends beyond the table. I find comfort, in my quiet life working from home and caring for a toddler, knowing that uncelebrated toil has purpose and power. Like tomatillos, like so much we eat, maybe our work is to die, to step into the low place, to keep faithfully, regularly, clocking those projects on the computer, washing those dishes, listening instead of speaking, meeting needs that we see. Thinking about this makes me want to fight to believe that the hidden, humbling, hard work, in all its struggle, is actually the best work we do.
Vitamix Tomatillo Salsa
This Vitamix tomatillo salsa recipe originally comes from Rick Bayless, who shared it on the A Couple Cooks podcast a few months ago. All you need is peeled and washed tomatillos, a serrano pepper, two cloves of garlic, some water, some cilantro, an onion and some salt. It’s fast, customizable to your heat preferences and so good with a bag of tortilla chips. We also used it on chicken fajitas last week.
Lightly adapted from A Couple Cooks
1 pound fresh tomatillos
1 serrano chile pepper (or jalapeno)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup water
Handful of fresh cilantro
1 small white or yellow onion, chopped finely
salt, to taste
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse them thoroughly. Remove the stem from the chile pepper and slice the pepper vertically down the middle. Place the tomatillos, the sliced pepper and the garlic cloves on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Broil under high heat for 5 minutes. Remove pan, and flip the tomatillos over to roast the other side. Broil another 5 minutes. Remove from oven.
Allow everything to cool. Then, place the tomatillos, the garlic and one half of the chile pepper in the Vitamix with 1/4 cup water and some fresh cilantro. Blend until smooth. Taste, and add remaining chile if desired.
Place the chopped onion in a fine colander and run under cold water. Shake to remove excess water. Combine the pureed tomatillo mixture with the chopped and rinsed onions in a serving bowl. Taste and adjust for salt as desired.