Back to Basics: Tomatillo

You’ve seen them at the market: those green, unripe tomatoes with a papery coat of a husk. Unless you’re familiar with Latin cooking, these firm, palm-sized fruits are almost alien, one or two relatives removed from the heirloom tomatoes just a few bins over. What is it? The fruit in question is the tomatillo, a staple in Mexican and Latin kitchens. But what is it?

A fruit in the tomato family but of a different genus, the tomatillo originated in Mexico. When ripe, it can be anywhere from green to purple in color, but it is the green fruit which finds its way into a variety of dishes like salsa verdes and sauces. A great source of vitamin C, green tomatillos have a tart quality, not unlike that of cape gooseberries, and it is this characteristic that finds its way in food. Purple tomatillos, on the other hand, are slightly sweet and not quite as common.

The best tomatillos are found grown between May and November, requiring the same growing conditions as tomatoes. The husk is a good gauge for the freshness of the fruit; avoid shriveled husks, as it should not be dried. The fruit itself should be firm, with no defects.

Recommended preparation:

  1. Remove husks and wash.
  2. Cook either whole or cut in pieces.
  3. Boil or steam in a pot or sauce for five to eight minutes.
  4. The result can be used in other dishes, or as a base for salsas verdes when mixed with chiles.

Check out this classic roasted tomatillo chile salsa recipe from our friends at Food Republic, or if you’re feeling ambitious, why not experiment with tomatillo’s Latin roots and a roasted lamb?