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Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Titmouse Takes a Shower

One of the (few) things we miss when living in Costa Rica are tomatillos, those husked green fruits with the tart taste so perfect for salsas, chili verde and other spicy Mexican dishes. For some reason this fruit is virtually unheard of in Costa Rica. Only our organic consultant Carmen, who hails from Guatemala where they do grow, was hip to the joys of tomatillos. Our Tico friends and feria vendors would shake their heads when we inquired about them and then ask us to describe them, which is pretty difficult, especially in my broken Spanish. Sort of like a tomato, I would say, only green and with a cáscara, which really means shell or peel, not exactly husk. "Oh! tomate verde," they might offer, a green tomato! Well, no, not exactly.

So while we're here in the US, I have been delighted to find fresh tomatillos at our local grocery. We have feasted on my semi-famous Chili Verde several times, including last night. We're keeping the leftovers - always better after a day or two in the fridge - to share with our friend Ruth who will join us for dinner tomorrow night. But when Layne suggested that I make a photo of a tomatillo to show our Tico neighbors when we return to Costa Rica, I decided to do better than that. I took photos of the unpeeled, the peeled, the chopped up ready to simmer down to tenderness and then finally of last night's finished Chili Verde and condiments.

I thought I would share my recipe with those of you who can acquire this piquant fruit as there are few better ways to enjoy it than in this delicious pork stew. Be aware, however, that free-range pork and fresh tomatillos make all the difference in the final product. Indeed, humane treatment of pigs is an important social issue for us as these animals are extremely intelligent and deserve a good life in open spaces before being sacrificed for our food. Free-range pork is all Layne and I ever buy.


3-4 tbsp olive oil
3 to 4 lb. organic lean pork, cut into 1” cubes (pork butt is good)
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic (or more), mashed or chopped fine
2 (or more, if you dare!) jalapeno chilis, minced (taste your jalapenos because they vary greatly in heat!)
1 – 7 oz can diced green chilis
1 cup, more or less, fresh cilantro, chopped
2-3 cans (14 oz.) tomatillos, or better yet, about 15-18 fresh tomatillos (more if small ones), stewed till tender, then pureed, with liquid from cans or from stewing
½ of a dried smoked chipotle chili (or be brave and use the whole thing!)
1 tsp salt

Lime wedges, cilantro, jalapenos and jack cheese to garnish

Heat oil to fairly hot in large heavy skillet or deep pot and add the pork in batches to brown. With the last batch, add the onion and sauté until the onion is translucent and the pork is a bit browned. Add back all the other pork and let it get acquainted.

Add the garlic, jalapenos, cilantro, tomatillos, green chilis and salt and bring to a simmer. When it is bubbling gently, drop in the chipotle chili (whole) and let it reconstitute in the simmering chili. Cover and cook over low heat for a couple of hours, stirring now and then. When the pork is very tender, remove the chipotle chili and serve the Chili Verde with the garnishes available.


Yes, you read that right up above - we ARE planning to return to Costa Rica! Hurrah! After three months here in California, living on our little five-acre ranchette, we long for the Pura Vida lifestyle of Costa Rica. Each day we're reminded of just how much WORK it takes to keep this place up and how expensive it is to live in the U.S. With the improvements we've made on the house, garden and horse facilities, we're sure we can once again find a good tenant and rent the house out to someone with horses. Our plan is to return on August 1st and resume our lives in Santa Eulalia. And we can hardly wait.
The renovated pasture shelter
Still, we have enjoyed our time here and there are compensating factors for the work, such as the colorful wildlife we have enjoyed on our land. The hummingbirds have devoured the sugar water out front and the Titmouses, Grosbeaks, House Finches and California Jays love the steady supply of birdseed in the backyard feeder.

The birds also love the drip watering system Layne has repaired and expanded in the garden. One little Titmouse last night was so delirious at the dripping water, he took a shower only steps away from where we sat. And today, perhaps the same little water-lover, perched momentarily on my water hose only inches from my fingers as I watered some newly planted petunias, as if to emphasize his appreciation of the cooling liquid.

So now it's more of the exhausting job of sorting through clothes and knicknacks, books and memorabilia to decide what else we can part with. Then packing boxes and making it all fit back into the storage barn. Still, we've weeded out so much already, this process should be much less strenuous than it was two and a half years ago when we first set out for Costa Rica. And now that we know what we are looking forward to, it's really a labor of love!


  1. Kat, glad to hear you and Layne are planning to return soon. Why don't you try to get some tomatillo seeds to bring back and see if you can grow them here? I'd love to try to grow some.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Pat. I actually have some tomatillo seeds in Costa Rica still - but we had very limited luck in growing them. According to Carmen, it's different seeds for different climates and soils, etc. Hers did pretty good but she's a full-time organic gardener!

  3. We are excited about your return... Miss laynes hugs and your enthusiasm.... Stephen and Bonnie

  4. We feel the same about you guys, S & B... can't wait to see all our friends there in Santa Eulalia!