GREEN, STICKY-SKINNED, PAPERY, HUSK-CLAD TOMATILLOS are the base ingredient for salsa verde, an addictive Mexican dip that’s delicious with corn chips. Tomatillos aren’t often seen at the supermarket, although they do turn up seasonally at farmers’ markets. If you’ve got a hankering for these unusual fruit, your surest source of supply is to grow your own.
HOW TO GROW TOMATILLOS Cousins of tomatoes and cape gooseberries, tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica syn. Physalis ixocarpa) are for warm climates or glasshouses only. These heat-loving Mexican plants have fairly simple tastes: water, warmth and food. Sow seeds now in containers (any earlier and they will sulk, unless sown in a glasshouse) and transplant when 5-10cm high. Plant in free-draining soil in full sun, in a sheltered position, and pump on the water and liquid fertiliser. The faster they grow, the faster they will flower – and set fruit. Lack of water during dry spells will lead to smaller fruit. Expect to start harvesting tomatillos 90-120 days after sowing. Healthy tomatillos are bushy and prolific, producing hundreds of fruit on a 1m plant. Watch out for whitefly and aphids in late summer. The fruit are ripe when the husks feel loose and papery but are still green. When overripe, tomatillos turn pale yellowish-green and the husk dries out. Store in the fruit bowl for a couple of weeks. Tomatillos are annuals but they’ll self seed like cape gooseberries if they are growing in the right conditions. Buy ‘Grande Verde’ tomatillo seed from Kings Seeds.
WHAT TO DO WITH TOMATILLOS Make SALSA VERDE. For authentic Mexican flavour, you’ll also need jalapeño chillies and lots of coriander, so grow some of these too. A lime picked from your own tree would be an added bonus. Try this salsa verde recipe from Cuisine magazine. Makes about 1 cup.
INGREDIENTS • 4 green tomatoes or tomatillos or 340g can tomatillos, drained • 3 fresh jalapeño chillies, deseeded, or 10 slices of pickled jalapeños • ½ onion, chopped • ¼ cup chicken stock or water • juice of 1 lemon • ¼ cup chopped coriander
METHOD Put the tomatoes or tomatillos in a food processor, together with the jalapeños, onion and the stock or water. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper then pulse until smooth. Transfer the salsa to a saucepan and bring to the boil then simmer for a few minutes. Remove from the heat, taste and season with lemon juice then set aside to cool before serving. When ready to serve, stir in the chopped coriander.
This CREAMY GRILLED TOMATILLO DIP is a tasty treat for guests at a barbecue.
INGREDIENTS • 12 fresh tomatillos • 2 jalapeños (or 1, if you prefer a milder flavour) • ½ onion • ¼ cup chopped coriander • juice of one lime • ¼ teaspoon salt • 2 avocados, diced
METHOD Grill tomatillos and jalapeños until lightly charred on both sides. While they’re grilling, blitz half an onion, coriander, lime juice and salt in a food processor. Add the hot, grilled chillies and tomatillos with their juices to the processor and blitz again. Do a taste test and add more salt or lime juice as required. Let the mixture cool before adding the avocado. Serve with corn chips.
FREEZE YOUR TOMATILLOS If you have an excess of tomatillos, you can freeze them whole for using later. Peel away the papery husks, wash and dry them, then snap freeze them before storing them in a freezer bag.