I live in a predominately Mexican town in the middle of the Central Valley of California. Roughly 75% of the people here are from Mexico or are one or two generations away. Parts of the town have signs in Spanish and every where you go the people are bilingual or only speak Spanish.
As a matter of fact, the folks who live across the road from us don’t speak English at all. They are very friendly and we wave at each other but there’s no chance we will be discussing philosophy or anything beyond the weather. (“Muy caliente!” “Es verdad!”) They grow all sorts of things that you might see in Mexico and they have chickens, ducks, turkeys and goats and fruit trees. Their whole yard is devoted to growing vegetables.
When I saw that they were growing tomatillos I decided to dust off my Spanish and ask them about it. Sure enough. That’s what they were all-righty and sure enough they were willing to give me a bowl full.
The tomatillo (toe-ma-tee-oh) is also known as the Mexican husk tomato and is a plant of the nightshade family just like the ubiquitous tomato. It bears small, spherical and green or green-purple fruit that originated in Mexico and was cultivated in the pre-Columbian era. They are staple of Mexican cuisine and they are eaten raw or cooked in a variety of dishes, particularly salsa verde, chicken enchiladas and chili verde.
In general, you can grow tomatillos anywhere that’s warm all year round. If you feel like trying them they do best in well-drained, sandy, fertile soil conditions as long as it doesn’t get too cold. They grow best when temperatures range from 75 to 90 degrees. Temperatures at night should not be lower than 60 degrees and they prefer full sun exposure and warm locations. No wonder my neighbors have a bounty. The day time highs are pretty much over 95 degrees all summer long here and the soil is perfect.
Making salsa verde is very easy. Here’s how.
Tomatillo Salsa Verde Recipe
• 1 lb. tomatillos
• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 1 tsp. minced garlic
• 1 serrano or jalapeno pepper*
• 2 Tbls. chopped cilantro
• 1 Tbls. chopped fresh oregano or 2 Tbls. dried
• 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
• Salt to taste
• 2 cups water
*A word about chili peppers: generally, the smaller the pepper the hotter it is. Therefore, serrano chilis, which are small, are hotter than jalapenos which are a bit bigger. Some like it hot. Some like it medium. To my way of tasting this salsa is medium when you use the jalapeno and hot if you use the serrano.
Husk the tomatillos. This is easily accomplished by bringing a pot of water to a boil and dunking the tomatillos in it for a minute or two. The husks then slip off easily. Discard discolored or shriveled ones. You might notice they’re sticky because the husks are sticky. Any residual stickiness is easily washed off in cool water.
Put the tomatillos, garlic, onion, and chilis into a saucepan. Season with cilantro, cumin, oregano and salt. Add the water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer until the tomatillos are soft and squishable. Maybe 10 to 15 minutes. You can put all this into a blender if you want smooth consistency or simply squish the tomatillos and serve it chunky-style. Makes about a pint of salsa. When refrigerated it stays good for a few days.