The Littlest Tomato

Not long ago, a friend sent me a picture and asked me to identify the fruit. It looked quite a bit like this:
No, it’s not a Chinese lantern, though it looks quite a bit like one. Nor is it a particularly odd-looking gooseberry. It’s a tomatillo!

For those of you unfamiliar with Mexican food, tomatillos are often used in salsa, both uncooked (salsa cruda) and roasted (salsa verde). Also known as the husk tomato, jamberry, husk cherry, Mexican tomato, or ground cherry, (though many of these names also refer to other, related fruits, especially a smaller, sweeter variety) tomatillos are extremely nutritious – full of potassium, vitamin C, and folic acid. They’re also a bit unique in that they are typically eaten unripe – the ripened fruit varies in color from yellow to purple, just as its close cousin the tomato does. It has a sharp, lemony taste raw, and mellows and sweetens as it cooks.

It was for this reason that, when I ran into the fruit at the farmer’s market myself only a few days after the photo incident, I decided to take them home and make myself some salsa verde – I’ve eaten salsa cruda at a few restaurants and just don’t enjoy it quite as much – the tomatillos can be overpowering in raw form!

In order to cook with tomatillos, you first need to remove the husk, as well as the sticky resin that coats the fruit. Here’s a naked tomatillo, just like a little green tomato!
Tomatillo, Husked

Once I had my tomatillos husked and washed, I put them in a hot oven to roast and get sweet.
Before roasting:
Waiting to be cooked

After roasting:
As you can see, the tomatillos are browned and softened, without being charred. This makes perfect for the salsa!

Once the tomatillos were cool enough to handle, I chopped them up and put them in a pan with some onions and garlic I’d cooked until softened, and then threw in some oregano from the garden, salt, and copious amounts of black pepper. In a traditional recipe you’d add chilies and cilantro as well – but I a. didn’t have either of things and b. am not the biggest fan of them, anyway. Finally, a cup of water rounded out the whole shebang – use veggie stock if you have it (I know, I know, clearly I need to restock the pantry!).

The entire batch simmered away on the stove top for about 15 minutes, until the water was largely evaporated and I had a terrific thick sludgy mess:
Salsa Verde

I finished it off with the juice of a lime, bought some tortilla chips, and brought it all over to the house of the same friend who had wanted to identify the mysterious green fruit. It was a big success – a bit of bite from the black pepper, but mostly wonderfully roasty and sweet – a fine appetizer to bridge the gap between summer and fall!


One response to “The Littlest Tomato

  1. and hark! look what the nytimes features in its recipes for health this week:

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