The tomatillo is a member of the tomato family and is often used as the main ingredient in green salsa and is used in creating many other Mexican dishes. This vegetable has a sweet citrus-like taste that enhances the flavor of food. The tomatillo plant is native to Mexico and were first grown by the Aztecs around 800 B.C. This plant is also known as the “husk tomato” or “ground tomato.” Tomatillo fruit are similar in appearance to tomatoes but the fruit is covered with a thin papery husk at maturity.
There are two major varieties of tomatillos : “Toma Verde” and “purple.” The Toma Verde variety is the most common variety grown. It has large golf ball-sized fruit with a tart flavor. The Toma Verde variety is usually ready to harvest in about sixty days. At maturity, the Toma Verde can appear green, yellow or red. The purple variety has bright purple fruit with green husks and are ready to harvest in about 65 days.
The tomatillo plant grows best in full hot sunlight and prefers well-drained fertile soil. Choose an area of the garden that will get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Add a three inch layer of dried manure or compost and till the soil to a depth of about 12″. The dried manure or compost will lighten the soil and provide better drainage. Tomatillos can also be grown in raised beds.
This vegetable needs to be cross-pollinated by the pollen from a different plant, so be sure to plant several in your garden. You can start tomatillo seeds indoors in starting trays 6-8 weeks before the date of the last killing frost of spring in your area. Seedlings can be transplanted into the garden when they are 6″-8″ tall and have healthy stems and several leaflets and the outside temperature is about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
When transplanting seedlings into the garden, be sure to allow about 3′-4′ of space between plants. Tomatillos can grow to a height of three to four feet. Allow ample open space around the plants for better air circulation and better development of the fruit. Keep the soil moist but not wet around the plants. A two inch layer of straw mulch should be placed around the base of the plants to improve drainage and to protect the roods from the more intense rays of the midday sun.
This delicious vegetable will be ready to harvest 50-80 days after transplanting outdoors. By that time the fruit should be 2½” -3″ in diameter and the husk is dried completely and starting to split.
Remove the dried greenish brown husks from the fruit before adding to recipes. Rinse the fruit well and allow them to dry on a paper towel or in a colander. Tomatillos can be ground or chopped and mixed in to add a bit of zest to salsas, hot sauces and dips. You can also mix halved or chopped tomatillos with an egg and a cup of milk. Toss the chopped fruit first into flour, then into cornmeal. Fry in olive oil until crisp and golden brown. The tomatillo fruit can also be boiled or steamed.
Tomatillos are low in calories and high in dietary fiber. This vegetable is a good source of iron, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper and other minerals . Tomatillos also contain good amounts of Vitamins A, C and K.