Everyone who visits Veracruz encounters the famous picadas, which resemble thick tortillas with the edges pinched up like the shell of a tart to hold a light topping of salsa and grated cheese. They usually are brought to the table in both red and green versions, the former topped with a fresh salsa roja of roasted tomatoes and the latter with some cousin of this lovely tart sauce. Since discovering it, I’ve taken to using it in various nontraditional ways — for example, to sauce simple grilled foods, or with a bowl of tostadas as a lighter, spicier replacement for guacamole. I’ve tasted many versions, but none I like better than the one I found in Maria Stoopen and Ana Delgado’s La cocina veracruzana, a classic that is now, unfortunately, almost impossible to find.
Whether you are using a machine or a mortar and pestle, most of the process is the same: In a food processor or blender or a heavy mortar, process or pound the garlic and salt to a paste. Add the onion, chiles, and tomatillos and pulse to make a slightly chunky paste or pound and mash the ingredients together as fine as possible.
Halve the pit of the avocado and scoop out the flesh. For a smooth machine-finished purée, add it to the other ingredients, along with the cilantro, and process very fine. If using the hand method, chop the avocado flesh fine and mash it into the onion-tomatillo mixture. Chop the cilantro leaves and stems and stir in. Or, for a compromise version, process the onion-tomatillo mixture in the machine until smooth, pour into a bowl, and mix in the chopped avocado flesh along with the cilantro.