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What the Heck Are Tomatillos?

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What the Heck Are Tomatillos?

Tomatillos are small, round fruits resembling little tomatoes bearing a papery outer covering. They are members of the nightshade family, along with tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers. Though they are usually green, they can ripen to be any number of other colors, including yellow, purple, and red.

Tomatillos grow throughout the Western Hemisphere, and are a popular staple food in Mexico, where they are often called “tomato verde” or “green tomatoes” (not to be confused with American “green tomatoes,” which are simply unripe tomatoes). Other names include husk tomato, husk cherry, Mexican tomato, jamberry, and ground cherry.

Nutritionally, tomatillos are low in calories and rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, niacin, potassium, manganese, and healthy omega 6 fatty acids.

Green tomatillos usually have a slightly tart flavor, though other colors can be sweet enough to be used in jams. They can be eaten raw, either whole or chopped into salads, and are most popularly used to make a spicy green salsa (salsa verde) and other sauces.

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Here are a few tomatillo recipes to help you get to know these “little tomatoes”:

Salsa Verde
1 pound tomatillos, husked
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 chili pepper, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 cups water

Place tomatillos, onion, garlic, and chili pepper into a medium saucepan. Season with cilantro, oregano, cumin, and salt; pour in water. Bring this mixture to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the tomatillos are soft, about 15 minutes. Using a blender, purée the tomatillos and water in batches until smooth.

Tomatillo Chicken Soup
2 whole chicken breasts, skinless
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound tomatillos, husked and quartered
1 Russet potato, peeled and quartered
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 chili peppers, stemmed and seeded
4 cups chicken stock
3 cups water
Kosher salt and ground peppercorns to taste
1/4 cup sour cream
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

In a large pot over medium heat, add chicken, onion, garlic, tomatillos, potato, oregano, chili pepper, chicken stock, and water; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is tender and the meat falls from the bone, about 30 minutes. Remove chicken from the pot set aside to cool. Once the chicken has cooled, remove the bones and shred. Remove the soup pot from the heat and let the vegetables and broth cool slightly. Purée the vegetable and broth in batches in a blender. To serve, spoon a small amount of shredded chicken into soup bowls and pour over it. Top with sour cream and cilantro.

Tomatillo Gazpacho
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. fresh tomatillos, husked
2 green peppers, halved and seeded
5 scallions, chopped
2 green chilies, roasted, seeded, and chopped
1 garlic clove, roasted
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 cup vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Set aside two tomatillos, 1/2 green pepper, and two scallions. Chop the remaining tomatillos, scallions, and peppers. In a food processor, purée the chopped vegetables, garlic, and lime juice until smooth. Add vegetable stock and season to taste with salt, pepper, and sugar. Dice and add in the reserved vegetables. Top with cilantro and yogurt.

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1 Pam { 12.12.16 at 5:38 pm }

Thank you for these recipes! My husband is allergic to tomatoes and we have had a lot of luck substituting tomatillos in place of tomatoes. I’m still looking for a BBQ sauce recipe, tomatillo sauce recipe (to use in place of tomato sauce) and ketchup recipe that I can make for replacements. Have you by chance come across any such recipes?

2 Ann { 08.01.16 at 9:32 am }

Thank you so much for the information. I grow them this year, planted 2 plants. Just picked some this morning. I do not know much about them or what to do with them until I read this. They r green and I have one that is purple. I have more to pick. I don’t know if there are going to get yellow but they r green. very nice size. Oh yea , they r not has dark as the one your showing, much lighter, r they ok.

3 Granny Gruntz { 06.22.16 at 6:20 pm }

*Have been seeing these little green things, something kind of new, at the super market and was curious. *I tried one – AND – I LIKE THEM!!! 😉 *The ones I have seen are usually on the small side – maybe about the size of a purple plum or slightly bigger. *I peel the skin off with a potato peeler and cut into sections. *Sprinkle with a little salt – AND – UMMY YUMMY FOR THE TUMMY!!! ;’-) ;’-)

4 Kathryn Grace { 10.13.15 at 7:02 pm }

Thanks for this. I was looking for something that told me a little bit more about tomatillos, as I got a bunch in my CSA box last week. Appreciate the info, and the recipes!

5 CSA Week 13 | { 09.01.15 at 5:07 pm }

[…] Green Beans or Tomatillos […]

6 Fran { 07.20.14 at 6:44 pm }

Like all info. Trying for first time if I can find the tomatillos.

7 Linda { 07.15.14 at 9:17 am }

I’ve made tomatillo jams….skin, seeds, and all. Plain, it tastes like clover honey, and pairs beautifully with hot peppers or pineapple/ginger. Oh, and don’t forget to plant at least 2 for cross-pollination!

8 Mondo Vila { 07.15.14 at 6:13 am }

Tomatillos make a great green hot sauce for enchiladas, taco sauce, but its a pain to take the outer skin off. I wonder if there’s a trick, like soaking in hot water to help?

9 Mary Cay Martin { 07.14.14 at 6:01 pm }

My grandmother grew ground cherries and made them into pie for my grandfather in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I loved the appearance but thought they tasted nasty both raw and in pie.

10 Sally { 07.14.14 at 2:30 pm }

Are these the same as physalis/cape gooseberries?

11 Tyger Roth { 07.14.14 at 1:50 pm }

This is an amazing salsa I loved during my time in Texas

12 John { 01.07.14 at 1:12 pm }

Easy Roasted Salsa Verde

6 tomatillos
2 -4 Seranno Chilis
1 Med. Onion Diced
Set Oven on Broil with rack as close to burner as possible

Place Chilis and Tomatillos in cookie sheet and place on oven rack for 5 mins.
Turn Chilis and Tomatillos and roast another 5 Minutes and remove from oven
Allow Chilis and Tomatillos to cool
place Chilis and Tomatillos in food processor until you get the desired consistancy
Add salt to taste
Add diced onions and place in fridge over night.


13 Helen { 07.07.13 at 3:21 pm }

Always wondered what they were. lol Thanks

14 brit { 12.09.16 at 10:08 pm }

Most green tomatoes (such as the ones you find at the farmers market) are just unripe tomatoes

15 Jean Blu { 06.19.13 at 1:43 pm }

I have planted these for the first time, so I appreciate the recipies.
However, “American green tomatoes” are not unripe tomatoes. They are their own variety and generally have a tarter taste than a red tomatoe. If you leave them on the vine, they will turn shades or yellow or red, but by that time, they are not good to eat, they have a bad flavor.

16 Yvonne { 11.16.11 at 12:22 pm }

Here in FL, they grow volunteer everywhere, but I seldom have any that the fruit grow to full size. They usually drop off the plant way before the fruit fills out the paper shell. I have used the seeds to grow plants in pots, and basically still have the same problem. But there are literally hundreds of fruit per plant, and hence, more volunteer plants each spring, and they tend to start new plants all season, until it starts getting cold, which is usually November or December here. I have washed a few of the bigger fruit, and just dropped them into some left over juice in a pepper jar. Not too bad!

17 Sharon { 07.24.11 at 11:26 pm }

This is my first year growing them in Maine and I am pleasantly surprised. We have had a wet spring and hot summer so far and the four plants (one I started myself) are growing well. I can’t wait until it is time to harvest and try this unusual fruit.

18 Kathy { 07.20.11 at 4:16 pm }

I’ve grown these for the last 3 years or so. I love them. Here in the high desert, very easy to grow with lots of volunteers! I make tons of salsa verde to can. Love them!!!!

19 kathy { 07.20.11 at 12:52 pm }

I tried growing a plant in a pot here in our beautiful (wet) NW last year; had garboons of wonderful blossoms but little fruit. I finally used the stalks with blooms in a bouquet.Beautiful!
For tomatillas I imagine there would have to be less rain, more sun. Still a fun experiment!

20 Peggy { 07.19.11 at 12:34 am }

Very informative!

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