Market Watch: Tomatillos



Photo by: jatrax


Though they look like small, green tomatoes encased in papery husks, these tangy little fruits have a flavor all their own. Denser in texture and more acidic than their larger relatives, tomatillos, or “tomates verdes,” have been a staple ingredient in Mexican cooking since Mayan times. In the fairly recent past, all that was available to American cooks were the canned type. But now, from late summer until the first frost, you’re likely to find them in well-stocked grocery stores and farmer’s markets. The most common variety ranges from size from a walnut to a golf ball and is light to bright green in color. If you’re lucky, you might happen on a more unusual type, such as the pineapple tomatillo, with its sweet, bright flavor, or the beautiful purple tomatillo.  

Tomatillo Facts

Tomatillos are an excellent source of soluble fiber and are packed with vitamins C, K, and potassium. They are rich in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect your vision and prevent macular degeneration. What’s more, they contain a mere 42 calories per cup.

Choose firm tomatillos that have grown to fill their husks; if the husk is larger than the fruit, they are not fully mature. The papery husks should be green or light brown and fresh looking, not shriveled. It’s fine to store tomatillos at room temperature for a few days before using. For longer storage, place in a paper bag and refrigerate up to a week. Before using, remove the husks, and rinse off the sticky residue left behind under cold, running water.

What to Do with Tomatillos

Even if you’ve never seen a fresh tomatillo, you’ve probably consumed them in the form of green salsa—or salsa verde—with a basket of tortilla chips. Made from roasted tomatillos, chiles, onions, and cilantro, salsa verde is a cinch to make at home. It’s also incredibly versatile. Try it on scrambled eggs, topped with crumbled queso fresco, or spoon over grilled white fish or chicken. It also makes a great base for a summery soup: In a blender, whizz equal parts salsa verde and ripe avocados until smooth, then thin with freshly squeezed orange juice and serve topped with torn basil leaves. 

Tomatillos are a perfect match with all things green — lime juice and cilantro being the most common partners. A more complex sauce with a rich, smoky flavor that is a perfect counterpoint to chicken or pork is pipian — made from green poblano peppers and roasted pumpkin seeds (see recipes, below). Avocados are another favorite partner. Some Mexican chefs swear by adding tomatillos to guacamole in place of lime juice for that sour note.

Though most Mexican recipes call for roasting or otherwise cooking tomatillos to mellow their flavor and bring out their sweetness, you can also use them raw. To make a bright green salsa with an acidic bite, simply puree a pound of quartered tomatillos with coarsely chopped onion, garlic, minced Serrano pepper and fresh cilantro leaves and season with salt and sugar to taste.

Though most of the recipes you’ll find for tomatillos come from Latin America, there are plenty of other creative uses for them. Thinly sliced tomatillos and red tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, chopped red onions, and fresh mint make a gorgeous salad. They also pair well with other acidic ingredients, like buttermilk and yogurt. For a refreshing soup, puree equal amounts of raw tomatillos and cucumbers, along with some scallions, garlic, lemon juice and salt to taste. Puree with buttermilk or yogurt and serve chilled.

If you find yourself with a large number of tomatillos (like anybody who has ever tried growing these prolific fruits), you might even try making them into a savory jam. High in pectin, tomatillos can be substituted for green tomatoes in your favorite recipe.

Here are a few ideas to get you cooking:

Keep Reading

Next Up

Market Watch: Tomatillos

Here’s what to do with fresh tomatillos from the local farmers market.

Market Watch: Homegrown Tomatillos (and Roasted Tomatillo Salsa)

Bright, tangy and deliciously fresh -- nothing tastes quite like a tomatillo. They’ve become a staple in my home garden and this year the harvest was bountiful!

Market Watch: Radishes

Don't underestimate the nutritional and culinary punch of the seemingly-humble radish.

Market Watch: Celery Root

This root veggie might look a bit unusual, but don’t let that scare you away from giving it a chance. Celery root (a.k.a. celeriac) is a delicious early fall treat.

Market Watch: Seasonal Tomatoes

Because we’re celebrating tomatoes this week, I went to my farmers' market and bought every kind of tomato I could find. Here’s how I made out.

Market Watch: Kabocha Squash

Here’s what to do with fresh kabocha squash from the local farmers market.

Market Watch: Artichokes

It's worth breaking through artichokes' spiky exteriors to get to their delicately flavored leaves and hearts.

Market Watch: Sweet Corn

Our previous Summerfest write up on corn got my mouth watering for more of this warm weather veggie. Piles and piles can still be found at my local markets.

Market Watch: Raspberries

Early raspberries are coming into season where I live. I managed to snag the very last half-pint at the farmers’ market this week. As fellow market patrons looked on with envy, I hurried home to make some raz-tastic recipes.

Market Watch: Grapes

Locally grown grapes look different than anything I’ve seen at the grocery store. I picked some up this week to see what they were all about.