Tomatillos

Domesticated by the Aztecs, the tomatillo has long played a key role in Mexican and Central American cooking. Jenny Hobson McGrigor takes a look at this colour-changing fruit, and urges you to make the most of it’s unusual flavour profile while it is in season.

Mexico has produced some very welcome additions to the food scene – tequila, tacos, tamales and my all-time favourite part of the ‘T food group’ are the tomatillos. Tequila wins the beverage category in case you were wondering!

Tomatillos were first cultivated by the Aztecs, but have since then ‘travelled’ the world and are now widely available in Australia. They are in season from November through to April.

In their home country, tomatillos are also known by the name of ‘tomates verdes’ (green tomatoes). Other monikers include Mexican husk tomato, jamberry, husk cherry or Mexican tomato. The fruit look like small green tomatoes and they are members of the solanaceae (nightshade) in a distant cousin kind of way.

Each small, spherical tomatillo is wrapped in a papery, thin outer layer called a calyx that brings to mind a fancy dress outfit. The delicate husk wrapping on the outside offers decoration and importantly protection for the prized fruit.

Interestingly the fruit is edible at several stages with each having a different flavour profile. Consume it when it’s still green and the tomatillo is quite tart in taste with a flavour that can be described as something between a tomato and a plum. As the fruit ripens, the colour changes from green to yellow through to a shade of purple. And the darker it gets, the sweeter it becomes.

Tomatillo is a key ingredient for many of the traditional Mexican dishes, it is the essential flavouring in salsa verde. They feature in tacos and can also be used in salads, as the basis for sauces.

When selecting a fruit, the husk is an indicator of freshness. For the best quality tomatillo, select one that is deep green with a husk that has changed from green to a tan colour.

To prepare them simply remove the husk and rinse to remove any sticky substance that is on the fruit. There is no need to peel.

If you aren’t going to use them immediately they are best stored in their husks, they can be refrigerated but don’t have to be. They can even be frozen. Just don’t store them in an airtight bag as it will spoil them. 

Jenny Hobson McGrigor is from Murdoch Produce. Contact her on jenny@murdochproduce.com.au or visit her website murdochproduce.com.au.