Tomatillo is the younger sister of tomato and, just like the last one, it can be used in a lot of dishes. This tiny fruit is present in many cuisines around the world.
The first evidence of growing tomatillos dates back to 800BC. Aztecs loved the taste of these small fruits and it is possible that they cultivated them before they did with tomatoes.
They were brought to Europe by Spanish Conquistadors. Nobody knows for certain where the name comes from. The Aztecs used to call “tomatl” a plump fruit. So they named tomatoes “xitomatl” and tomatillos “miltomatl”. Therefore historians can’t tell for sure if the conquistadors brought home tomatoes or tomatillos or both.
Tomatillos are known as “tomates verdes” meaning green tomatoes. They are also called “Chinese lanterns” because they are coated with a thin husk. They are found mainly in Mexico, where they are considered key vegetables which should always be present in local cuisine.
Usually the fruits are green and they get a purple, red or yellow hue when ripe, depending on the variety chosen. Tomatillos are wrapped in a yellow-white layer. When they reach maturity this husk breaks and the fruit itself remains discovered and ready to be picked. Unripe tomatillo fruit is not edible.
When ripe tomatillos have a little sour taste, reminiscent of gooseberries. These round fruits are full of vitamins and minerals, becoming the favorite of ladies who want to lose weight.
Tips for Growing
Tomatillos can be grown where you plant tomatoes. The plants are not demanding in terms of growing conditions, but it would be ideal if you could find a place in a soil rich in nutrients, with a neutral pH 6.5-7.0.
Tomatillos grow anywhere they have heat, sunlight and watering times. Planting is done in spring after the last frost. Plant the seeds directly in the ground or prepare seedlings in pots 4 weeks before transplanting them in the vegetable garden.
In order to achieve pollination, you need at least two tomatillo plants. They grow about 23-35 inches in height and extend long enough. It is therefore advisable to leave at least 20 inches between plants.
The fruit starts to ripen about 80 days after planting, but some varieties ripen only after 3-4 months. A single plant can bear over 300 tomatillo fruits. The fruits can be picked until the frost is coming.
If you manage to keep a 50 ºF temperature in winter, you can enjoy fresh fruits all year round.
Mexican people still use tomatillo flowers to treat diabetes. Another part of the plant used for medicinal purposes is the fruit. They are an effective remedy against fever.
Tomatillos are also good for weight loss as they contain a small amount of calories: 8 cals/1 oz.
When you want to use it for cooking, remove the cellulose husk, then rinse thoroughly with clean water. You will notice that the fruit has a sticky surface, but this is completely normal.
Tomatillos can be used raw, in sauces or soups. Or you can stir fry them and even boil. By cooking they become very tender and the taste intensifies.
They can be paired with chicken or fish and grilled dishes, with avocado or guacamole, with lime and cilantro or with chilies.
Mexican cuisine pairs them with pork, seafood, onions, sour cream, tomatoes and even tequila.
Tomatillos are a great addition for every kitchen. You should try to prepare them in more ways so to discover how you like them better.