Fall's Bounty: Tomatillos

Fall has arrived in Missoula. Frost has come and gone, and come again. My garden is winding down and my kitchen is full of garden bounty. Tomatoes rest in boxes, ripening at their leisure. Onions, garlic, and winter squash are tucked away in a warm spot in the garage. Jars of dilled green beans and carrots wait patiently in my cupboard for a festive occasion. Tomatillos nestle inside their husks, ready to liven-up dinner with a fresh citrusy bite.

Tomatillos are easy to grow. They like a sunny, well-drained garden spot and are tolerant of dry spells. I like to plant them at the edge of the garden, an area I can water less than that planted with moisture demanding vegetables like cucumbers, lettuce, and beans. Tomatillos grow 2 to 3 feet tall, host small yellow flowers, and produce green or purple fruits surrounded by a papery husk. The color of the fruit depends on the variety you plant – the purple are beautiful but lose their color when cooked. If you leave the fruits on the plants long enough, they’ll turn yellow and will become sweet. Tomatillos are ready to pick when they “fill out” the husk surrounding them. At the green stage, they have a citrus tang with strong lime overtones.

Once picked, tomatillo fruits will last for several weeks in the refrigerator or (my preference) in the cupboard. Leave the husks on and do not seal in an airtight container or plastic bag. Keep them in a colander or paper bag. They freeze very well. Simply remove the husks, put fruit in a container or Ziploc bag and place in the freezer. To use, thaw the tomatillos and add to sauces, vegetable or chicken soup, or make into cooked salsa.

My favorite use for fresh tomatillos is salsa. . .  Here’s a recipe.

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ pounds fresh tomatillos, husked, and coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium sized avocados, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped (Slightly firm avocados work fine in this recipe. Helpful hint: If you pour the lime juice directly over the chopped avocados, they will be less likely to oxidize and brown.)
  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and chopped (1 cup or so)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1-2 red jalapenos, coarsely chopped (If you don’t like heat, add half of a chopped red bell pepper. You can also heat up this salsa: add several jalapeno, serrano, or habanero peppers. You can use green jalapenos too; you just won’t have the color contrast.)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Salt & black pepper to taste (I use just a quick sprinkle of each.)

Instructions:
Combine all ingredients. Let sit for 5-10 minutes to let the flavors meld; stir, and serve

This fresh tomatillo salsa is great served with tortilla chips or carrot and celery sticks. I like to serve it as a “sauce” for grilled chicken or seared salmon. It’s also a delicious addition to tacos, burritos, or quesadillas.

Fun Facts: a single tomatillo has approximately 11 calories, 3% DV of potassium, 7% DV of Vitamin C. So, if you eat 10 tomatillos in your serving of salsa, you’ve consumed, roughly, 30% of the potassium and 70% of the Vitamin C you need for the day. Tomatillos – delicious and good for you! (Basic nutritional information from Wikipedia.)