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The Tomatillo

The Tomatillo, or Mexican Husk Tomato is native to Mexico where it has been cultivated since the time of the Aztecs.  Other common names include tomato verde and jamberry. Tomatillos are relatively unknown outside of Mexico and Southern California.

Tomatillos are members of the nightshade family and are related to the tomato, eggplant, pepper and potato.  This "berry" is about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and grows on a plant measuring from 3-4 feet (90-120 cm) in height.  Compared to its cousin the tomato, tomatillos are firmer and glossier and usually picked when still green -- and become yellowish or purple when ripe.  The tomatillo is covered by a thin brownish-orange membrane "calyx" with purple veins exposed.  The inside berry has a gelatinous texture with a rather acidic pungent flavour.

When selecting tomatillos for purchase, choose ones that are firm and evenly coloured -- when sold ripe, tomatillos have a calyx that should be crisp and free of mold.

When preparing tomatillos for cooking and eating, peel off the husk and wash fruit before using, (don't discard the calyx since they can be added to tamale dough) taking particular care to wash off sticky resin accumulated at the base of the stem; carefully remove core.

Tomatillos are usually cooked, but can be eaten raw either on their own or in a salad.  Compared to its cousin the tomato, tomatillos are firmer and perfect for sauces, and widely used for this purpose in Mexico.  Tomatillos are often found in tacos, burritos, enchiladas and various meats, and as the ever-popular salsa verde (green sauce).  Served raw, tomatillos can be minced and added to gazpacho and guacamole.

Sometimes because of tomatillo's unusual appearance, it is used as an ornamental fruit.

Kris Reeb, Chef
Ontario, Canada

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