A member of the prolific nightshade family that includes potatoes, peppers and eggplants, tomatillo (tohm-ah-TEE-oh) means “little tomato.” It resembles a small green tomato, but like its cousin, the Cape Gooseberry, it’s enclosed in a papery husk. Other names include jamberry, Mexican husk tomatoes, tamates and tomate verde.
Tomatillos hail from Mesoamerica, were widely cultivated by the Aztecs, and still grow wild from southern Texas to the highlands of Guatemala. Today, they’re also grown in India, South Africa and Australia. They’ve long been a mainstay of the Mexican diet, where they’re used extensively in salsas, guacamole and dishes like enchiladas with salsa verde.
If you expect tomatillos to taste like tomatoes, you’re in for a surprise. The tomatillo is tart with citrus overtones. As the fruit ripens, it bursts from its husk and takes on a yellowish color.
Choose specimens that are firm and evenly colored with dry, snug husks. Mexican food authority Rick Bayless recommends the variety with a purplish blush, but to get them, you may have to grow them yourself. To use, remove husks and wash off the sticky residue. A little dishwashing soap helps, but you’ll need to rinse thoroughly.
Tomatillos can be used raw, but roasting intensifies flavor. To roast, cut in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Slide directly under the broiler. By the time you turn your back (about 5 minutes), they’ll be blackened and ready to be used in salsas or for a sauce to smother enchiladas.
—By Jo Marshall