Earlier this summer a grocer down my street gave me a sad little green plant in a plastic bag. A stem and a few wilted leaves. “I’m not sure what it is called in English,” she admitted. “It’s like a tomato,” she added shrugging. Curious, I planted the little thing and watered it everyday-it really likes water and got quite droopy without its daily shower. Over the next couple of months it has grown, and thrived, and is now approaching four feet tall and sporting hundreds of gorgeous little yellow flowers attracting butterflies and bees. It’s a real hangout. Still, I had no idea what it was until I posted a picture on social media asking about it and got a quick reply; mystery solved, it’s a tomatilla plant!
Tomatillos are tart little green tomatoes also known as Mexican husk tomatoes. Native to Central America and domesticated in Mexico, they were used by the Mayas and Aztecs and are still an indispensible ingredient in the cuisine of that area, most notably in green sauce (salsa verde), stews and spicy soups. After those pretty little yellow flowers are pollinated, the fruit starts to form behind thin papery husks. The average tomatillo is not much larger than a golf ball, and a single plant is very prolific, yielding up to ten pounds or more of fruit. You can tell that they are ready to be picked when the papery husks start to split.
Tomatillo plants, though they are native to Central America, grow really well in our climate. They love the sun and like to be watered almost every day and thrive in a pot that drains well. But, alas, the tomatillo plant self –incompatible, meaning it will not produce fruit by itself; it needs at least one other tomatillo plant nearby to be properly pollinated, so my plant is destined to be barren. If I can get my hands on another plant, I will introduce them to each other. I already have bees visiting every day, and hopefully there will still be enough warm weather for a little of nature’s magic to get things going.
In the meantime, I’m all fired up to make a big batch of tomatillo salsa verde. It’s great as a dip, and also as a sauce for enchiladas and green chili.
Easy Tomatillo Salsa Verde
Makes about 3 ½ cups
2 pounds (12-15) tomatillos husks removed, rinsed well
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ a bunch cilantro, rough chopped
2-3 jalapeno chiles, chopped
1 onion, chopped
Clean tomatillos and remove husks. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add tomatillos, cooking about five minutes or until they lose their bright green colour. Remove with a slotted spoon, cut into pieces and place in a food processor with the garlic, cilantro, jalapeno, and onion. Pulse until smooth but slightly chunky. Put sauce in a pot and simmer over low heat until mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot as a sauce for enchiladas or chill and serve as a dip with tortilla chips.