Latin Twist: The Tomatillo

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Tomatillos Roasted with Red Onions

Mis amigos, as you well know, sometimes, in order to grow, you have to move out of your comfort zone and take some risks. Well, my friends, this applies to the area of preparing and enjoying food, too.

Now please don’t get frightened; I’m not asking you to eat something that you’d never eat (at least I don’t think so!). I’m just asking you to move a little bit out of your comfort zone. And, I promise—really—that you may find something that you might start putting in as a regular player in your cooking repertoire. And this brings me to the topic of today’s post: the tomatillo.

The tomatillo (pronounced toh-mah-TEE-yo)—like its cousin, the tomato—is a plant that belongs to the nightshade family. Also called husk or Mexican tomatoes, tomatillos vary in size and color when ripe. The most common variety—at least as far as what I’ve found in Westchester County—is the cherry-tomato-sized green one. Their color is bright green, and they’re covered with a paper-thin green-beige-ish husk (that you peel off prior to cooking and/or eating). Tomatillos are ubiquitous in Latin American vegetable markets in our area, like Rancho Grande in New Rochelle.

The somewhat citrusy-tart flavor of the tomatillo lends itself to a different ways of using it. Actually, they can be eaten raw or cooked—but you should rinse them prior to enjoying them (they’re covered with a kind of sticky substance). But you don’t need to core—or peel them.

I learned about tomatillos here in New Rochelle from one of my Mexican-raised ESL students. We were discussing fruits and vegetables (not uncommon topics in my English classes!), and Irene—the best guacamole maker in the whole world—suggested I try cooking with tomatillos. I haven’t been the same since!

So here, my friends, I offer you one option, just to get you started! Try roasting your tomatillos in a 400-degree oven, with some red onions, jalapeño, garlic, some olive oil and salt. Once roasted and cooled, purée them with some cilantro, and a bit of honey. Season them with salt as desired. Serve with grilled meat or vegetables—or as a dip for fresh chips. Do let me know how you like ‘em! ¡Buen provecho! Enjoy!

                                                           Tomatillos before roasting!

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About Author

Maybe it was the dinner parties my mom always threw—or the hours I spent prepping and cooking alongside her (and then on my own!). Or maybe it was array of fabulous dishes that my family sampled in New York City’s richly diverse restaurants, but I’ve loved creating, savoring, and sharing food for as long as I can remember. Living in Spain, and later in Peru, also greatly influenced my life. These years abroad taught me Spanish—and about living in different countries--but also introduced me to teaching English as a second language, which I’ve done—mostly in the US-- for the past 20-plus (yikes!) years. I’ve authored two cocktail/tapas books, Mambo Mixers and Calypso Coolers, coauthored more than 15 others (mostly food related!), and raised two children. Now I'm chef and owner of my own restaurant, Mambo 64 in Tuckahoe, New York. My message is the same, whether I'm teaching, writing, running the restaurant or being a regular guest on the Spanish-language network Telemundo (on the morning show, Buenos Días Nueva York!). My belief in food—and the power of food—is far reaching, and is married with another one: the power of stories. I’m sure that if we could all sit down and have meals together, sharing both tastes and tales, we’d have peace on earth. Enjoy!

2 Comments

  1. I love tomatillos, especially when I make my own chicken enchiladas. I learned about them living in Port Chester … not something I ever knew growing up in Pittsburgh! I decided this year I was going to try to grow them on my patio. I bought a tomatillo plant just last week in Mount Vernon .. home of George Washington. They have a lovely little garden store right on the property. I’ll let you know how it fares this summer!

  2. Arlen Gargagliano on

    OOh–I want to try your chicken enchiladas! Thanks for sharing this. I look forward to hearing about your tomatillo adventures, Maria!

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