Are Tomatillos Space Aliens?

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Although they look like aliens — green and round with a futuristic papery husk called a calyx, tomatillos are naturalized earthborn fruits. Yes, fruits, who impersonate as vegetables. Inside that strange green, kinda sticky, exterior are many minute seeds, who’ll make the next generation of juicy green Earthpeople.

These strange ones come from the nightshade family, not mafia connected. Their relatives are tomatoes, potatoes and chilies. Tomatillos are the niños of the clan. In Spanish, tomatillo translates as “little tomato”. Tomati is the Nahuati word for tomato. But, this is where words will lead you astray—  “Come here my little tomato, my tomati sweetie”  will get you nowhere. Tomatillos aren’t tomatoes at all, not even green tomatoes, but their own thing. May I introduce them in Latin—  Physalis Philadelphicans. Proud children of the Aztecs, with a pedigree that goes back to 800 BCE. Tomatillos, domesticated for so long, and introduced to the U.S.A. over a hundred years ago, you’d think we’d know what to do with them. After all, we know what to do with tomatoes, potatoes and chili peppers!

Tomatillos really should have a larger place in our lives. They grow well in our area, and are a delicious seasonal garden and farm crop. They’ll be out in the Coop’s produce area this week and should continue throughout the summer.

How do you choose and prepare tomatillos?

A ripe tomatillo should be firm to the touch and bursting out of their husks. Remove their papery husks and rinse them in warm water to wash away their sticky coat.

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What do they taste like?  

Tomatillos are sour and sweet, like a green apple, with bright citrusy notes and a dense, dry texture.

What are some favorite ways to use them?

  1. Make salsa verde

  2. Use them as a topping, chopped up like tomatoes

  3. Broil them. They get sweeter and their bright flavor mellows

  4. Roast them in the oven with other summer veggies like onions, garlic, fresh chilies, potatoes, summer squash, or eggplant.

  5. Make a bright Chow Chow

  6. Fry them like green tomatoes with dredged in cornmeal

  7. Drink them blended in a Bloody Mary, with or without Vodka, with cucumbers, lime juice and jalapeno.

  8. Add them to tortilla soup, or a cold gazpacho

  9. Preserve them. They have a high pectin content, so make excellent chutney, salsa or jams.

Here’s three tomatillo recipes I’ve written recently for the Coop’s Oaxacan cooking class.

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Avocado Tomatillo Salsa - Salsa Verde con Aguacate

Adapted traditional recipe 

Makes 3 cups



6 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno, minced

2 cups cilantro, chopped

2 large avocados, diced

Juice and zest of one lime

2 anchovies, minced  

1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste

⅓ cup avocado oil  


In a food processor, combine all the ingredients except the avocados and process into a rough puree. Add the avocados and process until creamy and almost smooth. Add water, a tablespoon at a time, if needed, to make a salsa that will drizzle. Taste and correct the salt and acid if needed.


Oaxacan Pasilla Tomatillo Salsa - Salsa de Pasilla Oaxaquena y Tomate Verde

Adapted traditional recipe

Makes 2 ½ cups

30 minutes

** The Oaxaquena chilies are hard to find in the U.S. Chipotles in adobo sauce are an acceptable substitute.  


1 canned chiles chipotles, removed from adobo sauce

5 cloves garlic, unpeeled

8 medium tomatillos, husked and rinsed

Sea salt

A touch of coconut sugar


On a griddle, or heavy-bottomed skillet, over medium heat roast the unpeeled garlic, turning, until blackened in spots and soft, about 15 minutes. When cool, remove the papery skins and chop.

On a baking sheet, place the tomatillos 4 inches below a hot broiler. When they blister and blacken on one side, about 5 minutes, turn them over and roast the other side.

When cooled, put the tomatillos and their juices into a food processor, add the chipotles and garlic, and pulse until the salsa is thick and relatively smooth.

When ready to serve, add 3 to 4 tablespoons of water to give the salsa a thinner consistency. Taste and add salt and a little coconut sugar to allow the fiery flavors to soften and meld.

Will keep for several weeks refrigerated.

Pumpkin seed mole with pork shoulder and roasted veggies 

Serves 4-6

1 hour

Let the Instant Pot create succulent pull apart pork, while you roast mole ingredients in the oven. The mole, a vibrant green, is creamy delicious and definitely company worthy. Serve it with roasted, in season, veggies and pork. The recipe’s not complicated, and everything comes together at the same time.


For Mole Roasting

1 large white onion, chopped

6 medium tomatillos, papery skins removed, chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

2 Anaheim or poblano chilies, tops and seeds removed, chopped

1 tablespoon avocado oil

For Instant Pot

3-4 lbs pork shoulder

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup water

For finishing mole

1 cup green pumpkin seeds, toasted

1 cup cilantro chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon anise seed

1 teaspoon sea salt

If needed: tabasco sauce and lime juice


For roasted in season veggies. I used:

2 medium zucchini, cut into a large dice 

2 Yukon gold potatoes, cut into chunks  



Completely read through the recipe and assemble all the equipment and ingredients.  

Preheat the oven to 450F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. (400F for a convection oven)


Prep both the roasted mole and roasted veggie ingredients on two separate baking sheets. Lay each on their baking sheets and massage with oil. Roast the mole tray for 25 minutes. When the mole tray comes out, then put in the other tray with seasonal veggies in and roast for 20 to 25 minutes at the same temperature. 

Instant Pot

Add the pork, salt and water to the Instant Pot. Set to high pressure for 45 minutes and allow a natural release. When done, let the pork cool and shred the meat, removing some fat if desired. Strain the broth and reserve for the sauce.

Finishing Mole

Over a medium heat, in a heavy-bottomed skillet, toast the pumpkin seeds for 5 minutes or until they smell toasty and pop. Let them cool.

Add the roasted mole ingredients, and finishing mole ingredients to a high-powered blender (I used a Vitamix), with all the strained pork broth. Blend until smooth. Taste, and if needed add tabasco sauce and/ or lime, small amounts at a time. The amounts will depend on how hot the peppers are, and how sour the tomatillos. They can vary a great deal.  

To Serve

Serve the sauce with the pulled pork and roasted veggies.

Notes: You can also make this recipe with leftover chicken and broth from another meal. Skip the Instant Pot ingredients and directions. To make it vegetarian, use vegetable broth, skip the meat and serve with roasted veggies.

Kitchen to Kitchen Journal 

I’m working on having a lower waste kitchen. It’s always one step forward and two steps back. I’m feeling progress lately:  I bought some cloth produce bags, and as soon as my sewing machine is unburied from storage, I’ll sew more. I’m reusing my jars much more and taking them in to the Coop’s jar reuse bin. I love picking up new jars with the tare weight already on them. Overall, I’m noticing how much waste we are producing and becoming more conscious of each little choice I make while I shop and cook.

1.   Preserve them. With their high pectin content and tart flavor, tomatillos make excellent jams and chutneys.