The tomato’s tart, green, American cousin
“Tomatillos are native to South and Central America. The best way to think about them is a cross between a cape gooseberry and a tomato,” says Adam, manager of Cool Chile Co as he points to a pile of exotic looking fruit.
“They have a husk on the outside which you take off before eating. It has a really interesting taste; raw ones have a citrus-like tartness with a hint of bitterness. But if you were to boil or roast them and then blitz them into a salsa, they become a bit milder, and not as harsh on the palate.”
While they do come in different colours, tomatillos are usually green and do not go red like most tomatoes—even though the names are similar and they are both members of the nightshade family, they are actually quite different fruits.
South and Central America
“Almost all of ours come from Mexico,” Adam continues. “You can get them in other countries—they can even grow here in the UK—but you have to be careful because tomatillos grown outside South and Central America can lack the punch of those from there.”
While tomatillos are seasonal, Adam found that the demand was so strong, “especially from many of our Latin American customers”, that they sought out a couple of growers in other countries “so we can get good quality tomatillos in the Mexican off season. But being a Mexican stall, we return to our Mexican suppliers as soon their season returns.”
Alongside tortillas, tomatillos are a core ingredient of the region’s cuisine. “They are the basis for a salsa, which you find throughout South America. We sell them fresh, as a salsa and in tins, but the fresh ones have always been the most popular.”
Sense of freshness
Arriving at the Market within 24 hours of being picked, they are “as a fresh as most of the produce you will pick up in a grocer’s shop. When we get them they are still plump and firm with that sense of freshness that tells you they haven’t been off the vine for long.”
Adam likes to eat them fresh and suggests trying them in salads paired with avocado. “I like the sharp citrus-like flavour they bring. I chop them very finely and mix them through the dish like a spice,” he says. “If you have never tried them, don’t be intimated by the fact that they look a bit different. They are easy to use and really bring something a bit different to your cooking.”
Though they will last for about two weeks if kept in the fridge, Adam suggests using them before that. You can also freeze tomatillos, as they have a lot less water in them than tomatoes and a much firmer texture. “If you defrost them in the fridge then use them straight away, they will still have that sharpness you want.”
Grilled cheese sandwiches
If you fancy giving tomatillos a go, Cool Chile Co suggests a simple tomatillo and chipotle sauce, which can be served on tacos, quesadillas, with a steak or grilled cheese sandwiches. Simply roast six fresh tomatillos and a chopped onion, combine with two chopped chipotle chillies and a quarter of a teaspoon of salt, then blend together with a stick blender until smooth.
“If you add some finely chopped coriander and dilute it with a little stock, you turn the salsa into a green sauce for chilaquiles, which are basically corn tortillas that are fried, covered with a salsa and sprinkled with cheese—a very traditional Mexican dish.”