This week, I want to talk a little bit about the perks of cooking and making cocktails with seasonal ingredients.
The first thing I should clarify is something that should be obvious: what’s in season for me might not necessarily be in season for you. But this is worth mentioning because, nowadays, we are bombarded with dozens of recipes every day on social media, many of which are definitely not made with ingredients that are in season, or are made with things that only in season year around in California. Case in point: people are already posting all sorts of delicious recipes featuring pumpkin and butternut squash even though summer is not over in most parts of the United States.
You might be thinking, “so what? If they can find a pumpkin in the middle of July, then good for them.” And you do have a point. We live in a world where many grocery stores carry certain ingredients year around. So why not take advantage of this?
Why Do I Use Seasonal Ingredients?
Well, to me, cooking with seasonal ingredients is worth it for many reasons. The most important one is flavor. The truth is that buying strawberries in January tends to be a bad idea. It doesn’t really matter where they are from; they will tend to be a bit watery and flavorless. And the worst part? You’ll have to pay more money for them because considerable resources had to be invested in transporting them to you from half way around the world. As much as I miss fresh strawberries in the winter, I would rather wait six months and be able to cook with a perfectly sweet and ripe strawberry. The ones that taste like warm sunshine and sunsets.
Another reason why I prefer to cook with seasonal ingredients is that the constant demand for off-season products can actually have a negative effect on the planet and on small local farms. As I mentioned before, those strawberries had to travel a really long way to get to your supermarket in the U.S. in the middle of winter. Considerable amounts of fuel were burned by ships and trucks, and a lot of energy had to be spent keeping them at just the right temperature to be able to survive the trip.
A growing demand for ingredients that are not currently in season also puts pressure on small farmers to grow crops that might end up lowering the quality of their soil. Crops need to be rotated so that the soil does not become depleted of nutrients, but if people demand the same ingredients, rather than a variety, farmers have no choice but to keep planting the same crop over and over again to make ends meet. This is an unsustainable situation for most small farms, and can potentially drive them out of business leaving big agricultural conglomerates to monopolize the market.
Finally, eating seasonally makes me appreciate ingredients more. Looking forward all year to tasting a perfectly ripened heirloom tomato is one of my favorite things in the world. Seriously, when I finally find that tomato, it’s like Christmas. I truly believe that having everything available to us at the drop of a dime makes us appreciate things less. Having to wait to savor that particular ingredient will make you respect it more when you cook with it, look for interesting ways to highlight it, and take more advantage of it while it’s in season.
Let’s be honest: you can make a cocktail without having to use any fresh, seasonal ingredients. Combining the right spirits and you will end up with something pretty spectacular. So, why go through the trouble of highlighting seasonal ingredients in your cocktails?
For me, infusing spirits and making seasonal syrups is the easiest way to preserve seasonal ingredients at their peak. Canning doesn’t come naturally to me. I usually have to set aside a whole day to do it; I end up feeling hot and exhausted afterwards, and I can usually only preserve one ingredient at a time. Infused inspirits and seasonal syrups, on the other hand, can be made in either small or big batches, giving you more time to experiment.
The downside is, of course, that they don’t last as long as actual canned goods, but that’s a small drawback in my book.
With this in mind, I’ve created a cocktail that makes the most out of two of my favorite late summer ingredients: tomatillos and hatch chiles.
Tomatillos are a green fruit that come wrapped in a thin, paper-like husk. They are part of the nightshade family and are usually very tart. They are traditionally used in many Mexican sauces and dishes, and I find that they are great at highlighting other, more subtle, flavors. A good tip when you are shopping for tomatillos is to look for firm, bright green, unblemished ones. You will have to peel back the husk to get a good look, but that’s totally fine.
Hatch chiles are only in season where I live for maybe three weeks, so I eat as many of them as I can when they finally pop up at the farmers market. These peppers are technically New Mexico chiles, and they have a subtle kick and a smoky but sweet flavor. They also smell insanely good when you roast them. If you can’t find them, feel free to use other mild peppers such as ancho chiles or poblanos.
As you can probably tell, when I thought of this cocktail, I was going for something really complex. I wanted it to be smoky, which is why I chose mezcal as my main spirit, but also spicy and tart at the same time. It’s definitely a savory cocktail, which is why I’m comparing it to a Bloody Mary.
Tomatillo and Hatch Chile Bloody Mary
This unusual take on a Bloody Mary is made with roasted tomatillos and hatch chiles. It’s a smoky, sweet, and spicy cocktail that will leave your taste buds tingling.
- For the roasted tomatillos and hatch chiles:
- 4 medium tomatillos, husks removed
- 4 medium hatch chiles
- For the Bloody Mary:
- 1.5 oz mezcal (I used Vida)
- 2 oz roasted tomatillo juice (recipe follows)
- 0.5 oz Maraschino liqueur (or simple syrup)
- Dash of Angostura bitters
- Dash of Worcestershire sauce
- Dash of hot sauce
- Roasted hatch chiles (to garnish)
- Step 1 To roast the chiles and the tomatillos: Move the oven rack to the top of the oven. Turn on the broiler. Wash the tomatillos and the chiles and place them on a baking sheet. Slide the baking sheet under the broiler. Cook them for about 10 min, turning once at the halfway point.
- Step 2 Remove the tomatillos from the oven and let them cool. Place the chiles in glass or metal bowl and cover with a plastic bag or cling wrap. Let them steam for 5-7 mins. Uncover them and peel the skins under running water. They should come off easily. Cut off the tops, remove the seeds, and cut into strips.
- Step 3 To make the Bloody Mary: salt the rim of a short, heavy-bottomed glass and add a slice of hatch chile to the bottom. Top with ice.
- Step 4 Put the tomatillos at the bottom of a heavy-bottomed glass and use a muddler to mash them. Push them through a coarse sieve to extract their juices. You should end up with about 2 oz of tomatillo juice.
- Step 5 Add plenty of ice to a mixing glass and add the tomatillo juice, mezcal, Maraschino liqueur, bitters, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce. Stir until chilled (15-30 seconds).
- Step 6 Strain the mixture onto the glass with the hatch chile and top with some freshly cracked pepper. Serve immediately.
Note: You will have leftover hatch chiles which you can use to spice up scrambled eggs or omelettes or to top salads, tacos, or nachos.