Tomatillo (pronounced tom-ah-tee-yo) comes from Spanish and means “little tomato.” They are a member of the nightshade family, and related to tomatoes. Tomatillos stay green even when fully mature, unlike tomatoes which generally turn red. The tomatillo is covered in an inedible, papery husk. In terms of flavor, tomatillos are sharply acidic, and tangy when raw, but develop a sweet and citrusy taste when cooked. In texture, the flesh of the tomatillo is meaty and gelatinous, and the skin is firm and covered in a sticky film. It is believed that tomatillos have been used in Central America since the time of the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. The tomatillo has long been a staple of traditional Mexican cuisine. Today, tomatillos are popular throughout the Americas, especially in Mexico and the Southeastern United States. They were introduced to India in the 1950s where they quickly became popular. Tomatillos are high in vitamins A and K, and a cup of the fruit contains less than one hundred calories, making tomatillos a smart addition to a healthy diet.
Since cooking tomatillos develops their flavor, they are not often used raw. Raw slices of tomatillo are sometimes used as toppings for sandwiches and salads. Because of the gelatinous texture of the tomatillo, it is commonly pureed when added to recipes. Blended tomatillos are a common ingredient in the traditional Mexican dish, chilaquiles. The most common uses for cooked tomatillo are salsa verde and green chili. They can also be used in soups like gazpacho. Tomatillos are occasionally an ingredient in enchiladas and chile rellenos. Since the tomatillo was introduced to India, they have been used to make chutney. In general, tomatillos pair well with citrus. Tomatillos work well with lean meats like fish, chicken and pork.
When picking tomatillos, it is generally advisable to look for smaller ones. The smaller the tomatillo, the sweeter it will be. Inspecting the husk of the tomatillo is a good indication of the state of the fruit. When fresh, it will look either light green or brown and should be smooth and moist to the touch. Fresh, ripe tomatillos will be very firm to the touch, and they will give off a very pungent aroma when the husk is peeled back. If the husk of the tomatillo is dry and flaky, and the fruit is squishy, it is not fresh and should not be used. To store tomatillos, leave their husks on and keep them at room temperature. They can be refrigerated if desired, but there is no need to do so. To prepare tomatillos, begin by peeling the papery husk from the fruit. Then, thoroughly wash the fruit. There are several common ways of preparing the tomatillo, and all of them help to develop different flavors in the fruit. They can be used raw, blanched, fire roasted, or dry roasted in a sauté pan. All forms of cooking help to mellow the sharp acidity of the fruit, but each method provides a slightly different flavor. Dry roasting develops a slightly nutty flavor in the fruit. Fire roasting will produce a smoky flavor. Fire roasting can be done under the broiler or on the grill. It must be done with very high heat, or the tomatillos will become mushy before they are properly cooked. They should be roasted until the skin is slightly charred. To blanch the tomatillo, simply boil the fruit in water for about five minutes. Blanching simply takes the edge off the tangy acidity of the tomatillo, and doesn’t develop any distinct flavor.