omatillos (toh-MAH-teeYO) are actually a relative of what we know as the cape gooseberry. They look very similar. Tomatillos grow to the size of a cherry tomato and have a green husk on the outside. When the fruit is ripe, the husk becomes papery and splits open a little. This is peeled off to reveal the green fruit inside. Like the tomato, the tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, but it is in a different genus.
The confusion comes from the name. The Aztec word tomatl means round and plump. Both of these fruits fit that description, but the Aztec word for tomato (as we know the fruit) is xitomatl and the tomatillo was called miltomatl.
Europeans visiting the New World confused them and shortened both words to tomato. The Spanish word tomatillo means little tomato. However, the Mexicans now call this fruit tomate and the wild version miltomate. What we know as a tomato they call jitomate.
However they are named, tomatoes and tomatillos cannot really be substituted for each other in cooking. Some recipes use green tomatoes and lime juice in place of tomatillos, but you don’t really get the same result. Tomatoes have a higher water content than tomatillos and the taste is quite different.
Tomatillos are a key ingredient in Mexican cooking, particularly in green salsas. Their green colour and tart flavour are the prized contribution they make to the dish. Many Mexican recipes call for fresh tomatillos. They can be used raw for salsas or cooked in soups and stews.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find fresh tomatillos in New Zealand. I have seen them occasionally, but not often, at farmers’ markets. They do grow easily in New Zealand. We have a dozen plants nearly ready to bear fruit in our garden at the moment, but you can’t grow them year round. Luckily, canned tomatillos are an excellent product that retain much of the colour and flavour of the fresh fruit.
Their flavour is quite different, so if you can’t find the fresh ones, stick with the canned tomatillos rather than trying to substitute something else. Find the canned ones at specialty food stores and good supermarkets.
The most common use of tomatillos is in the ubiquitous salsa verde in Mexico. At its most basic, it is pureed tomatillos, onion, chillies, coriander and lime.
Salsa verde is used as a dip for tortilla chips or can be served with tacos, grilled pork, grilled meats and even fish.
This recipe is a little different, with the tart apple pairing well with the tomatillos.
ROASTED APPLE AND TOMATILLO SALSA
Makes 2 cups Preparation: 10 minutes Cooking: 25 minutes 1 onion 1 Granny Smith apple 3 garlic cloves, skin on 1 green chilli 5 canned tomatillos 1 handful coriander leaves Preheat the oven to 180C. Peel the onion and chop it into quarters. Chop the apple into quarters and take out the pips and core. Put the onion, apple, garlic cloves and chilli in a roasting pan. Roast until dark and caramelised and soft (about 15 minutes).
Makes 2-3 cups Preparation: 10 minutes Cooking: 1 hour A mole is a Mexican sauce that is used to cook meat in. This complex green sauce from Oaxaca derives from the moles made for centuries by the Mayan people and adopted by the Aztecs. Use it in chicken mole verde or to flavour green chilli rice. Or it’s great served with poached or grilled chicken or fish. 2 tablespoons oil 1 cup chopped onion, 1⁄ cup minced garlic (about 2 2 heads) 2 green chillies 6 small spring onions, chopped
(white and green parts) 1 cup chopped coriander leaves 1⁄ cup fresh lime juice
2 440g can tomatillos 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add the onion and garlic and fry until golden brown (10 to 15 minutes). Add the chillies, spring onions, coriander, lime juice and tomatillos. Fry for 5 minutes to blend the flavours.
Add the stock and a pinch each of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 40 minutes or until reduced by half.
Let it cool for 10 minutes then puree in a blender in batches until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Now use it to poach chicken or fish or serve it warm as a sauce on the side.
Delicioso: Roasted apple and tomatillo salsa is a new take on the ubiquitous salsa verde.