Chinese lanterns or edible fruit?
On our self-guided tour of the Fairview Gardens farm in Goleta California, we hiked past the squash and toward the figs when we encountered tomatillo plants. Seeing the mysterious balloons on the plant inspired the photo, and an explanation.
In the past, I had shied away from these husked morsels because I didn’t quite know what to do with them…I admit it, I feared them. Then I was introduced to tomatillos in a tamale cooking class, and I’ve been using them ever since. Sometimes it just takes an introduction to demystify an ingredient and open up a new avenue of cooking. Hopefully this post does just that.
Meet the Tomatillo (“Little Tomato” in Spanish)
Often referred to as a Mexican green tomato, the tomatillo is actually a cousin of the tomato in the nightshade family. It suits a low-sodium diet, with 0mg of sodium per half-cup serving. The intriguing part of the tomatillo is its paper-like green/brown husk, which gives it the look of a Chinese lantern. When peeled away, the fruit inside is revealed…and go figure, it looks like a light green tomato.
Although the fruit ripens to a yellow or purplish color, it is best used when green and firm. Like many crops these days, they can be available year-round, even though their primary season is from May through October.
Flavor and Uses
Tomatillos are a non-sweet fruit with a tart and earthy flavour. They are typically used in salsas, salads, and sauces. Some familiar dishes include chile verde (a delicious green chile stew) and green enchilada sauce.
Tomatillos can be sliced and eaten raw, or cooked to soften and sweeten the flesh. Simply remove the husks, wash (they are slightly sticky under the husks), then slice, chop or cook according to your recipe.
We prefer roasting tomatillos as a way of adding a smokier flavor to our dishes. On the barbeque over medium heat, roast in a grill basket or directly on the grates, turning gently with tongs until blistered and soft around. They can also be roasted under a broiler, on a stovetop comal or in a fry pan in a similar fashion.
Note: while cooking enhances the flavor and softens its skin, the cooked fruit tends to rupture and cave in. This makes for a not-so-pretty presentation. However, they’re great blended into sauces…try our deliciously low sodium chile verde recipe.