What are Tomatillos and How to Make the Most of Them

How to grow tomatillos, how to use them in cooking and what health benefits they can provide

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By Alex

tomatillo

In this article, we’ll learn about the tomatillo, also called the Mexican husk tomato.

Originating from Mexico, as its name suggests, this little fruit is frequently utilized in its raw form for crafting side dishes. However, its true culinary prowess shines in its role as an ideal ingredient for preparing a famous green sauce.

What is Tomatillo?

The term tomatillo indicates both the plant native to Mexico and its fruits. The plant (Physalis philadelphica), is a robust annual climber belonging to the nightshade family, alongside tomatoes and peppers. This vigorous plant produces distinctive, highly ornamental fruits during the latter part of summer on its slender, densely leafed shoots.

The fruits bear a resemblance to large paper lanterns adorned with decorative stripes. Encased in a green husk is a small, spherical, and juicy green fruit. When unripe, these tart berries can be utilized to create a flavorful Mexican sauce, salsa verde, or they can be canned and pickled in vinegar.

As the fruits ripen, they acquire a sweet and sour taste with a pronounced tomato undertone. They make for an excellent savory snack, a garnish for main courses, an ingredient in salads, vegetable cocktails, and soups, or a delightful addition to sandwiches and desserts. Tomatillos are not only flavorful but also nutritious, being rich in vitamin C, minerals, and fiber.

Nutritional Benefits of Tomatillo

Tomatillos offer a range of nutritional benefits. Packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, tomatillos contribute to a healthy and well-balanced diet.

One standout feature of tomatillos is their vitamin C content. These small, green fruits are rich in ascorbic acid, providing a significant boost to the immune system. Vitamin C is known for its antioxidant properties, which help combat free radicals in the body and reduce oxidative stress. Including tomatillos in your diet can contribute to a strengthened immune response and overall well-being.

In addition to vitamin C, tomatillos offer a diverse range of minerals. Potassium, an electrolyte essential for maintaining proper fluid balance, is found in abundance in tomatillos. Adequate potassium intake is crucial for heart health, as it helps regulate blood pressure and supports proper muscle and nerve function.

Tomatillos also contain small amounts of other minerals such as iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. While these minerals are present in smaller quantities, they still contribute to various physiological processes, including oxygen transport, bone health, and energy metabolism.

tomatillo & salsa verde
Tomatillos are a nutritional powerhouse, offering a medley of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Fiber is another nutritional highlight of tomatillos. Fiber plays a key role in digestive health by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels, making tomatillos a valuable addition for individuals looking to manage or prevent diabetes.

Moreover, the low calorie and fat content of tomatillos make them a nutritious choice for those aiming to maintain a healthy weight. The fruit’s natural tartness adds flavor to dishes without the need for excessive amounts of added fats or sugars.

Incorporating tomatillos into your meals is easy and versatile. They can be used to make salsas, sauces, and relishes, adding a zesty kick to your favorite dishes. Whether enjoyed fresh, roasted, or blended into sauces, tomatillos not only enhance the taste of your meals but also contribute to your overall nutritional intake.

Recipes with Tomatillo

Tomatillos, with their distinctive tart flavor, are a versatile ingredient that adds a unique twist to various culinary creations. From zesty salsas to savory main dishes, here are some delightful recipes that showcase the culinary prowess of tomatillos.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde

 Ingredients:

  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked and washed
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed for milder salsa
  • Handful of fresh cilantro
  • Salt to taste

Instructions:

  • Roast the tomatillos, onion, garlic, and jalapeño pepper under a broiler until slightly charred.
  • Blend these roasted ingredients with cilantro and salt until smooth.

This vibrant salsa verde is perfect for dipping tortilla chips or drizzling over tacos and grilled meats.

tomatillo salsa verde
A classic dish: tomatillo salsa verde

Tomatillo Avocado Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup diced tomatillos
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • Lime juice, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  • Combine diced tomatillos, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and red onion in a bowl.
  • Drizzle with lime juice and season with salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine.

This refreshing salad is a perfect side dish for grilled chicken or fish.

Tomatillo Chicken Enchiladas

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 1 cup tomatillo salsa verde
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 8 small flour tortillas
  • Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). In a bowl, mix shredded chicken with tomatillo salsa and sour cream.
  • Spoon the chicken mixture onto each tortilla, roll them up, and place them seam-side down in a baking dish.
  • Top with shredded cheese and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Garnish with chopped cilantro before serving.

Tomatillo Shrimp Ceviche

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup diced tomatillos
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 avocados, diced
  • Lime juice, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  • Combine shrimp, tomatillos, red onion, cilantro, and diced avocados in a bowl.
  • Squeeze fresh lime juice over the mixture and season with salt and pepper.
  • Toss gently to combine. Allow the ceviche to chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.

These recipes showcase the versatility of tomatillos, adding a burst of flavor to a variety of dishes. Whether you’re a fan of spicy salsas, hearty enchiladas, or refreshing salads, tomatillos are sure to elevate your culinary experience. Get creative in the kitchen and explore the delicious possibilities that tomatillos bring to your table.

How to grow Tomatillo

Growing tomatillos is relatively straightforward, and they can be a rewarding addition to your garden. Their cultivation is not very different from that of tomatoes, as we will see. Here’s a basic guide on how to grow tomatillos:

Climate and Soil

Tomatillos thrive in warm climates. They are typically grown as annuals but are perennial in frost-free regions.
Plant them in well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH (around 6.0 to 7.0).

Starting Seeds

Sow tomatillo seeds indoors in early spring, either in greenhouses or in multi-pots and small individual seedling pots. Tomatillos are usually started from seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost in your area. Plant seeds in seed-starting mix, covering them lightly. Keep the soil consistently moist, and provide adequate light for seedlings.

Transplanting

Once the danger of frost has passed, transplant seedlings outdoors, spacing them about 2 to 3 feet apart.
Ensure that the soil has warmed up before transplanting tomatillos.

Support Structures

Tomatillo plants can become bushy and benefit from support structures like cages or stakes.
As the plants grow, tie them gently to the supports to prevent them from sprawling.

Watering

Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Tomatillos prefer regular, deep watering.

Fertilizing

Use a balanced fertilizer or one with a slightly higher phosphorus content to encourage flowering and fruiting.
Fertilize at planting and then again when the first fruits begin to form.

Pruning

While not strictly necessary, you can prune tomatillo plants to encourage better air circulation and fruit development.
Pinch off the growing tips when the plants are about 12 to 18 inches tall.

Harvesting

Tomatillos are ready for harvest when the husks split and the fruit is a full, firm green.
Harvest by twisting the fruit off the plant.

Pests and Diseases

Keep an eye out for common garden pests like aphids, tomato hornworms, and flea beetles. Mulching around the plants can help prevent soil-borne diseases. Consider companion planting with other vegetables like peppers or basil to help deter pests.

Remember: If you want to save seeds for future planting, allow some tomatillos to fully ripen on the plant, collect the seeds, and dry them before storing.

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