Wednesday, May 27, 2009


When we moved to central Mexico six years ago, we encountered quite a few fruits and vegetables, tomatillos for one, with which we were unfamiliar.

Tomatillos (toe-mah-tee-yohs) belong to the Nightshade family, as do tomatoes. Tomatillos are covered with a husk and are harvested while green. Though tomatillos are sometimes called "tomate verde" (green tomato), they are not the unripe form of the tomatoes you might use on your salad or to make spaghetti sauce (those are usually referred to as jitomates in Spanish). Tomatillos can range from the size of a cherry tomato up to a small tomato and are sometimes called husk tomato, ground cherry, Mexican tomato or jamberry.

As tomatillos ripen, they change in color from green to yellow, red or even purple. Tomatillos should be used while green or they will not only lose much of the tartness that adds zest to recipes but also much of their nutrition.

Choose tomatillos that are bright green and firm with greenish-brown husks. The tomatillo should completely fill the husk. Under the husk, the skin of the tomatillo may feel a bit sticky. This is normal. Tomatillos with the husks attached can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. If you remove the husk and wash the tomatillos, they can be kept in the refrigerator in sealed plastic bags for up to a month. They can also be frozen, either whole or sliced. However, slicing them exposes more surface to the air and they will lose some of their nutritional value.

Tomatillos are a staple in Mexican cooking. They are eaten raw, cooked, roasted, and also are used to make various sauces (salsas).

1 medium tomatillo has only 11 calories, but gives you 7% of the RDA of Vitamin C. Tomatillos are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. They are a good source of fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, phosphorous, niacin, potassium, manganese, and Vitamin K. The only "bad" thing about them is that about 7 of the 11 calories come from sugars (about 1 gram).

Here is an easy recipe for salsa made with tomatillos that I learned from a Mexican friend. This can be used as a dip or poured over eggs, omelets, enchiladas, or meat. My friend uses chile de arbol, a very hot chile, when making this salsa for her family, but uses milder chiles when cooking for others. I like to use serrano chiles, which are a bit milder but still have a kick. This salsa tastes great warm or cold.

Tomatillo Salsa

1 pound tomatillos (10 to 12), husks removed and washed
½ of a large onion, coarsely chopped
2 serrano chiles, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons limón juice
2 tablespoons cilantro, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon salt

Place the whole tomatillos in a saucepan and fill with water until the tomatillos are just covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook for 8 to 10 minutes until soft. Drain.

Put the cooked tomatillos and the rest of the ingredients into a blender or food processor. Blend or pulse until smooth. You may have to do this in batches if your blender or processor is not large enough. Add more limón juice or water if you want a thinner salsa. If the salsa is too tart, you can add sugar to taste.


A Walk Through Mexico's Crown Jewel: A Guanajuato Travelogue

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