The tomatillo, like the tomato, is an edible berry—it’s the size of cherry tomatoes. (Trivia: the original tomatoes were the size of cherry tomatoes, and were developed into larger sizes).
Round and tart, it is erroneously thought of as a green tomato; and is called a husk tomato, a Mexican tomato and other names.
While both tomatoes and tomatillos originated in Latin America (the tomato in Peru and the tomatillo in Central America), they are second cousins. They share a botanical family, Solanaceae (the Nightshade family), but belong to different genuses.
The tomato’s genus and species is Solanum lycopersicum. The tomatillo is Physalis ixocarpa, and is closely related to the smaller, sweeter cape gooseberry.
Like the orange-colored gooseberry, the tomatillo is surrounded by a papery husk.
The ripe tomatillo can be green, purple, red or yellow.
Tomatillos were a staple of Maya and Aztec cuisines. They are still enjoyed today in chili, enchiladas, gazpacho, guacamole, salsa and tostadas, among other specialties.
Fresh tomatillos in their papery husks. Photo courtesy Good Eggs.
But, you can create a fusion dish, adding it to anything that begs for a tart accent and green color. We just finished the last bite of a tomatillo quiche for breakfast.
COOKING WITH TOMATILLOS
It’s very easy to cook with tomatillos: They don’t need to be peeled or seeded. Their texture is firm when raw, but soften when cooked.
You can incorporate tomatillos in different ways:
Raw, they add a fresh, citrus-like flavor to sauces.
Blanched, they are more mellow. Boil in water for five minutes or until soft. Drain and crush or purée.
Fire roasted under the broiler or over an open flame, the charred skins will give sauces a smoky flavor.
Dry roast them for an earthy, nutty flavor. Place the tomatillos in a cast iron or other heavy pan; roast over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally.
Just remember to remove the husk and rinse the berry before using tomatillos.