Tomatillos: A successful seed-swap experiment

Tomatillos are like a gift. Tart green fruit … wrapped in a crinkly husk. Peel the wrapping away and you’re left with a world of possibility.” – http://www.thekitchn.com

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Tomatillos: selection showing the papery husks, green fruit and dense flesh and seeds

Back at the end of January, at a local allotment seed-swap event, I picked up a small brown envelope labelled ‘Tomatillos’. Inside the packet was a tiny bit of tissue which, on closer inspection, was covered with some small flat beige seeds.

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I’d never seen or even heard of tomatillos before, but I love a challenge, so I quickly googled the fruit: The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica), also known as the Mexican husk tomato, is a plant of the nightshade family bearing small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit of the same name – Wikipedia. Pictures of the fruit are unsurprisingly reminiscent of green cape gooseberries (orange berries) or green chinese lanterns (orange husks), which both belong to the same Physalis genus.

Anyhow, I sowed and treated the seeds as I would tomatoes and was delighted when they all germinated. I kept the plants in the greenhouse until it looked like the frosts were over and then planted them out in different spots all over the vegetable plot to see what suited them best. A few plants were lost to the giant slugs that were at that time climbing anything vertical and stripping it, but generally the tomatillos survived and grew well, wherever they were.

Fairly soon the plants developed branched, tree-like canopies and began producing flowers.

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Definitely Solanaceae!

The flowers are strongly self-incompatible, so it was a good thing that I planted them all around the plot. The bees really seem to love the flowers and that has meant that I was quickly seeing papery green lanterns hanging below the leaves in abundance.

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The husks are slowly filling with large sticky green fruit

As soon as I found a fruit that had filled the husk I picked it to try.

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It’s hard to not think tomato taste when you eat it, because it looks so much like a green one and indeed that baseline is there, but there is no particular sourness or indeed sweetness to it. The flavour has some citrus overtones and is generally fruity, crispy and refreshing. There are some savoury notes and overall it is quite more-ish.

So now more of the fruit are ready, I have tried my hand at a salsa verde. I’ve read various recipes for the mexican dip, but I decided for this first attempt to stick with fresh fruit rather than roasted, so I loosely followed the instructions from the Riverford organic farmers website. I didn’t unfortunately have any fresh coriander, so I substituted parsley instead. I realise that this dip did not then taste like the authentic mexican salsa verde. However, being familiar with various canarian mojo verde recipes I thought the alternative was worth a try.

Ingredients

  •      1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  •     zest & juice of 1/2 lime
  •     1/2 tsp brown sugar
  •     200g tomatillos, husks removed & rinsed well
  •     1/2 chilli (depending on heat preference)
  •     1/2 small garlic clove, minced to a paste with a pinch of salt
  •     10g fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  •     salt & pepper

After marinading the finely chopped onion in the lime juice for half an hour to soften the raw onion flavour. I threw everything into a blender and blitzed them until fairly smooth.

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Salsa verde made with fresh tomatillos

It was delicious. The salsa has been great with roast vegetables, jacket potatoes and even used as a sandwich spread.

And I’ve now bought some coriander and so the next batch will be truer to type, plus I’ll up the quantity chilli and chop more coarsely. Enchiladas verdes here we come  …

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About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
This entry was posted in Food, Plants, Recipes, The home garden, Vegetables and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Tomatillos: A successful seed-swap experiment

  1. How informative and inspiring, I’ve often wondered about the growing of them and then what you do with them. Next year, I shall give them a try, thanks.

  2. Eliza Waters says:

    Great post! My sister grows them and gives me a bowlful every year to make salsa verde. I do love it best with cilantro and hot peppers. Eye-watering good!

  3. Inspirational and so pretty and yes I might well experiment next year. This is the first time I’ve grown toms and thus far have cropped 4 kilos !!

    • It is well worth it. Congrats on your tomato haul. Enjoy them! Unfortunately, blight hit most outdoor tomatoes around here very early this year, so my crop has been curtailed by my lopping off all the leaves at the beginning of August.

  4. Chloris says:

    What fun, how enterprising of you. They do look pretty in their green paper wrapping. It seems strange that the fruits of these nightshade plants aren’t poisonous.

    • I once grew huckleberries. They set a brilliant crop, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat a single one because they looked so much like deadly nightshade. At least tomatillos look more like cape gooseberries (which I love).

  5. My mouth is watering for a taste. The green fruits are so pretty, don’t you think?

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