Thursday 7 August 2014

Tomatillo, Tomatillo, tomatillo - tillo - tillo - tillo

It looks like a green tomato in its own private little paper bag. The Nahuatl people of pre-conquest Mexico called it the tomatl, which means "fat water". They called the tomato, an introduction from the Andes further south, a xitomatl, meaning "fat water with a navel". The conquistadors loved tomatillos, and took back seeds to Spain - xitomatl seeds, which they called tomates. From that point confusion reigned; everyone calls tomatoes by the word for tomatillos except the people of central Mexico, who know what their vegetables are called, thank you very much.

Tomatillos almost ready to pick
We have grown tomatillos Physalis philadelphica with great success for many years, starting in our allotment in Leeds, where it thrived outdoors. They are a member of the Solanaceae, which includes tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, potatoes and deadly nightshade. They are much hardier than tomatoes, and don't get blight. The little paper bag is familiar to anyone who goes to the Savoie Villars Hotel in Le Grand Pressigny for a meal, where cape gooseberries, those marble-sized orange fruit surrounded by a papery net, garnish every dish.

The plants grow to about a metre in height, and get so top heavy with fruit they fall over
Tomatillos are not self-fertile, so it takes two plants to tango. The bees think they are wonderful and the plants are always busy with insects. Despite what some seed merchants still say, growing them in a greenhouse just doesn't work - they turn into enormous leggy sprawling plants with pathetic little infertile fruits. The fruits are ripe three weeks after fertilisation, and you must harvest each and every one, or they will self seed and you'll never get rid of them.

Tomatillos have yellow flowers
The variety we grow, Purple de Milpa, develops purple patches when about to ripen, and is slightly sweeter than the green / yellow kind. Picked while still green, it has a lemony flavour which is lost when it ripens. When fully ripe the flesh turns yellow, Along with the purple patches, it looks like a bruise. I have been using the same packet (from Suttons) for about 10 years; I meant what I said about picking up all the fruit.

This one is just about right

They are a staple of Mexican food, both raw and cooked, in sauces, for fajitas, for example, and in jam (they are high in pectin, unlike tomatoes, and make a good jam, hence the alternative name Jamberry). To be honest, I don't like them, but the chilli content in most recipes blows out completely any flavour that might be imparted by the tomatillo.

Fresh tomatillo salsa, however, is different. It tastes very fresh, and is good with salad, as a dip, or in any of the Mexican folding breads like tacos or enchiladas, or as a zinger for soup.  It's best with all fresh ingredients, if you can get them. DON'T USE TINNED TOMATILLOS.

Here is Tim's recipe for Tomatillo Salsa Fresca.
A good double handful of fresh tomatillos, firm and under-ripe, about 8 or 10
 ½ - 2 green chillis (fresh, frozen or pickled cayenne, serrano, jalapeno or what you will)
1 red pepper (fresh or preserved)
1 medium onion
1 small bunch fresh coriander
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the tomatillos from their paper bags,and wash them to remove the sticky coating on the fruit.This is normal but fails to warm me to them.
Remove the seeds and stems from the chillis. If you're a beginner and nervous about chillis, start by putting a half chilli in.You can always add more. But you can't take it out!

De-seed the pepper. If you feel like peeling it, well, I can't stop you.
Cut all the main ingredients into chunks, and put them in the goblet of a blender or food processor. Whizz until finely chopped, but stop before the mixture turns into a purée. Taste and add salt and pepper. If there isn't enough chilli, chop some more finely and stir it in. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

{Tim here... "Just a couple of points... blitz the tomatilloes coarsely... the onion and chilli finely... otherwise you will end up with too much juice!!

I have started to do each ingredient on its own and combine them in a bowl...
then finely dice the red pepper [I am now using the bottled red peppers from Lidl... less faff, taste good] and fold it in.

Add the finely chopped, fresh coriander shortly before serving... enjoy!

Any liquid left in the bowl after the meal, just needs the addition of some oil of your choice and a bit of mustard to become a zingy salad dressing!}


GaynorB said...

The salsa was delicious! It went down very well at the TT pooled lunch.

Ken Broadhurst said...

When we grew tomatillos one year, we didn't use nearly enough out them. And they kept coming back year after year, to the point of being a pest. So we gave them up. I guess our garden is just too small for them. I know that tomatillo salsa can be very good, and yours must be.

Pollygarter said...

I was most pleased to see a renowned despiser of vegetables piling the salsa down! It must be good in that case. If anyone is passing by and would like some tomatillos and a chilli to have a go at salsa, they are welcome to drop in. You won't be depriving us of them, honestly!

Kev Alviti said...

I need to plant some of these this year. I've not grown them before but I've got the seeds.might make a good veg for the honesty box?