Readers of this blog will know that the Waikato Foodbasket is very keen on strange vegetables. So I was happy to find Harvey Till of Vegetills selling tomatillos on Sunday at the farmers’ market.
Tomatillos are very popular in Mexican cuisine, but they’re not common in New Zealand.
Tomatillos, Physalis ixocarpa, are a cousin of tomatoes, Solanum lycopersicum. They look superficially like small green tomatoes. But there are some distinct differences.
Tomatillos have a papery husk, like Cape gooseberries, Physalis peruviana, which are also close relations.
Tomatillos are ready to pick when the husk goes from green to tan, and shows signs of splitting. The fruit will be green and crunchy. If you wait till tomatillos are soft and yellow they will be over-ripe and bland.
Tomatillos are usually the size of small tomatoes, ranging up to the size of apricots.
Tomatillos are a good home garden crop, if you know what to do with them.
They like a sunny garden bed with well-drained soil, with compost mixed in. But they’re lighter feeders than tomatoes.
Tomatillos can’t pollinate themselves – you’ll need to plant at least two plants to get fruit. If you grow them one season and leave some of the fruit to rot on the ground, you’ll get self-seeded plants next spring. And they rarely suffer disease or insect pests – so they’re easy for beginner gardeners.
Out of my many shelves of recipe books, the only one that mentions tomatillos is the excellent More from the Cook’s Garden, by Mary Browne, Helen Leach and Nancy Tichborne (Reed Methuen, 1987).
Tomatillos can be eaten either raw or cooked. When they’re raw they are sour and sharp-tasting. It’s a tangy, almost citrusy flavour, which gives an acid kick to a green salsa or guacamole. When tomatillos are cooked, the flavour mellows and expands to become sweeter.
Both raw and cooked, tomatillos are a perfect match for chiles, onions and cilantro, to make a classic Mexican-style salsa verde (green sauce). There are both raw and cooked recipes for salsa verde – see below for one of each.
How to cook tomatillos
Tomatillos can be roasted or grilled whole. Or sliced and sauted in olive oil or butter.
Or, they can be parboiled. Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer gently for just a few minutes, until tender. If you cook them too long they will turn to mush.
Before cooking, peel off the husk and rinse off the sticky residue. You don’t need to remove the tiny seeds.
Fresh tomatillos can be stored with husks on in a paper bag in the fridge for up to a week. More from the Cook’s Garden says they will keep for a month or so if placed in a single layer in a cool, well ventilated place. Cooked tomatillos can also be frozen.
Mexican salsa verde – two versions
I like both of these recipes. They’re quite different in taste in texture.
Raw salsa verde
500g tomatillos, husked, rinsed and quartered
½ medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 fresh chilli, chopped
¼ cup fresh coriander/ cilantro leaves with tender stems
Whizz everything in a blender.
If you prefer a chunkier texture, chop everything finely on a board and mix together.
Add salt to taste.
Cooked salsa verde
This recipe comes from More from the Cook’s Garden.
10-12 fresh tomatillos, cooked and drained, or the same number of frozen ones, thawed and drained
1 green chilli, seeds discarded, flesh finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, cut into quarters
6 sprigs of fresh coriander or parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
Blend all ingredients except oil and seasoning.
Heat the oil in a medium sized frying pan.
Add the blended sauce and cook for a few minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
1 large ripe Hass avocado
1 medium tomatillo, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander/ cilantro
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh chilli – more to taste
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice – more to taste
Mash everything together.
Add salt and pepper to taste
Tomatillo or Cape gooseberry jam
I made this with tomatillos and granny smith apples from the neighbour’s tree. It’s a delicious, yellow-greenish jam. Looks like gooseberry jam to me.
A tablespoon of tomatillo jam is superb on top of a bowl of plain yoghurt.
This recipe comes from More from the Cook’s Garden, by Mary Browne, Helen Leach and Nancy Tichborne. They say it can be made with either tomatillos or Cape gooseberries.
350g green apples, peeled and chopped
¾ cup water
500g tomatillos or Cape gooseberries, husks removed
Juice of one lemon
2 cups sugar
In a large saucepan cook the apples in the water (with the lid on) until mushy.
Chop the tomatillos or Cape gooseberries.
Add to the apples, place the lid on the pan and cook until soft.
Add the lemon juice and sugar.
Stir until boiling.
Boil uncovered until setting point is reached. Depending on the type of apples used, this may take as little as 5 minutes. For me (I used granny smith apples) it took about half an hour, and it set quite soft, like a Scandinavian-style jam.
Pour into sterile jars and seal.
Meet Your Greens – my new ebook
If you’re interested in the different flavours of green veges, check out my ebook Meet Your Greens: Enliven your salads with herbal energetics. In it you’ll find some great green salad recipes, plus why you should care about the different flavours of leafy greens.
Here’s my Waikato Foodbasket post about how I came to write it: My Life With Green Salad.
Meet Your Greens is available on Amazon Kindle. If you don’t have a Kindle you can read it on your computer or other devices with the free Kindle Cloud Reader app.