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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.


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.

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