Whether you roast them, grill them or eat them raw, there’s no mistaking the flavor—and let’s be honest, the texture—of the tomatillo. Tomatillos look like a smaller green version of a tomato. But the resemblance ends there. Though they’re in the same nightshade family as the tomato, they’re definitely a different fruit.
Tomatillos grow with a papery husk that, when removed, leaves a sticky residue on the skin of the fruit. They’re tart and almost citrusy when eaten raw, and mellows in flavor and sweetens when cooked.
The most obvious place for tomatillos is in salsa verde, or green salsa. For a very simple uncooked version, prepare tomatillos by husking, rinsing, then quartering and place in a food processor. Add fresh garlic cloves, onion, fresh cilantro, and a little lime juice. Process until smooth adding water until desired texture is achieved. If you like your salsa on the spicy side, add a seeded chili pepper for a little or a lot, depending on the pepper, of heat. This basic process also makes an amazing green enchilada sauce. Add a little cream and stock (chicken or vegetable), then pour over enchiladas before baking in the oven.
For a cooked version of salsa verde, I like to fire-roast the vegetables first, either on the grill or under the broiler. The heat sweetens everything a bit and the char from the roasting adds a wonderful smoky depth of flavor. Whether roasting in the oven or on the grill, turn the vegetables regularly to ensure even charring and watch smaller vegetables, as they will cook faster.
An alternative to fire roasting the tomatillos is to dry roast them. This process produces more of a toasted finished product. Dry roasting brings out an earthy, almost nutty flavor. Place the tomatillos in a cast iron or heavy bottom pan on a burner over low heat. As the skin begins to brown, turn them to assure even cooking. Epicurious has a wonderful recipe for guacamole with tomatillos. I think dry roasting the tomatillos first then adding them to guacamole would result in a fabulously delicious accompaniment to chips.
Because of the sweet factor of the tomatillos and their texture, one of my favorite ways to use tomatillos is for sloppy joes, in place of a traditional red sauce. This idea came to me during our first year as CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members. We had an abundance of tomatillos, three hungry kids, and I knew my family wouldn’t eat that much salsa verde.
Begin with browning ground beef in a pot with some diced onions and garlic. Then add some roughly chopped tomatillos, beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and a little brown sugar and spices. Let the stock cook down a bit and voilà! The kids love it on soft buns with a slice of cheese. I enjoy it topped with thinly sliced fresh vegetables such as carrots and cabbage, a sprig of fresh cilantro, and wrapped in lettuce.
And here’s a bonus: Tomatillos keep for an incredibly long time in the refrigerator or a cool dry place—for several weeks or even a month or two.
This is my new favorite way to use tomatillos. It’s a great candidate for a slow cooker meal, and freezes well. It could be cooked longer and slower over lower heat on the stove, which would end up with more of a pulled pork rather than diced texture. It tastes wonderful by itself but could be served over rice or wrapped in a tortilla. This version is not spicy. Easily add some heat with some diced chili peppers cooked with the garlic, or by hitting it at the end with hot sauce.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 lbs. pork loin, fat removed, diced into 1-inch cubes
1 lb. tomatillos, husked, rinsed, finely chopped
1 large white onion, diced small
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. (two small cans) mild diced green chilis
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. ground coriander
2 cups beef broth
Lime juice and diced tomato for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Generously season pork with salt and pepper. In a heavy bottom pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook pork in oil then remove from pan and set aside. If necessary, drain excess fat from the pan, leaving about 1 tablespoon. Add onion and spices. Cook onions until translucent (approx. 5 minutes). Add garlic, cook another minute then add tomatillos, green chilis, and beef broth. Bring to a boil then simmer 20-30 minutes. Add pork back to pot. Bring to a boil again then simmer 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Before serving, garnish with lime juice and tomatoes.