Friday, July 22, 2011

What the heck is a tomatillo??

Tomatillo in the wild...of my garden
When most people ask what I have in my garden, I usually get an odd look when I say tomatillo. Usually they think I just have a weird way of saying tomato. Really, I am a little surprised. Its 2011, dude. Who hasn't heard of a tomatillo yet? Maybe I just read too many food and gardening blogs, but I kinda thought they were a bit more mainstream. After googling them a couple times to find various recipes it has become apparent that there are some misconceptions about them. Some people think they are just green tomatoes, others say you will only be able to grow them if you have more than one plant. They aren't tomatoes, but they are related. They are called "tomate verde" or "green tomato" in Spanish, so I guess that is where some of the confusion comes from. They are more closely related to ground cherries and cape gooseberries. Tomatilloes have a papery husk surrounding them that usually splits open when the fruit ripens. They also have a sticky coating between the husk and the fruit that tastes pretty bad if you don't get it all washed off. The plants look similar to tomato plants and can get a little out of control and sprawl over a large area of the garden.  Not that my garden EVER gets out of control...

Just starting to split the husk

The past two years I have bought two plants from the farmers' market because I read that they wouldn't set a good crop if you only had one. Well, the first year a cutworm took out my second plant and last year one of my boys stomped on one, but both years I had many more than I needed to keep us supplied with salsa verde. And that, my friend, is the best thing to do with tomatilloes. (Is tomatilloes the correct plural form, or is it like deer or fish? Spellcheck doesn't appreciate anything I'm throwing out there...)

This year, I wisely decided to get three plants, just to test the theory and make sure we were completely overrun with tomatillo. All three plants have thrived this year. We are really only at the beginning of the great 2011 tomatillo harvest, but I have already canned one batch of salsa and made a couple fresh batches.  I have also picked a bag full and completely forgotten about them in the crisper drawer of the fridge. Funny how that happens...

Last week my mom was here for a canning/freezing extravaganza and the last day of her visit we made Salsa Verde, or Tomatillo Salsa. When I make White Chili I usually throw some salsa verde in there towards the end of its cooking time. I have also gotten really lazy creative a few times and chucked a pork roast into the crockpot with a jar of the tomatillo salsa and let it cook all day. It smells awesome and makes some really tasty tacos, enchiladas, or anything else where you can use tender, Mexican-inspired pork.  The recipe I use when I am canning is from the Ball Blue Book.

Tomatillo Salsa

5 ½ C chopped husked tomatillos (2 lbs)

1 C chopped onion

1 C chopped green chili peppers (I used a mix of Anaheim and jalapeno)

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tb minced cilantro

2 tsp cumin

½ tsp salt

½ tsp red pepper (I used chipotle chili powder)

½ C vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)

¼ C lime juice

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.  Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, adjust lids and rings, process 15 minutes in boiling water canner.  Yields about 2 pints. 

I canned this in half-pint jars and got 5 full jars .

Here is a crazy side-note...once when I was making my pork roast and threw in this salsa, the garlic in it turned a fascinating shade of greenish-blue. Needless to say, I was a little freaked out, but after a little internet searching, I found that it is a perfectly normal reaction that sometimes occurs when garlic comes in contact with other acidic foods. 

Wash them really well to get that funky sap off!
When I am just making salsa to eat fresh, I quarter the cleaned tomatilloes and throw them in a pan with some onion, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, and salt. Cook just until they break down a little, add cilantro, then whir it in the blender a bit until it gets to the consistency I want. If I have a little more time and don't mind heating up the kitchen a bit, I will roast the tomatilloes, onions, and peppers in the oven for a little while then process them in the blender with the other ingredients. 

I haven't tried it yet, but I have read that to can plain tomatilloes you process them like tomatoes.  I am also planning on freezing some the next time I pick a bunch, so I'll let you know how that turns out.

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