There will be no shortage of salsa verde for us for this upcoming year- our tomatillos seem to be picking up the slack for the tomatoes!
We have 6 different tomatillo plants- not counting the four “volunteer” plants that have sprouted in various places in the yard. I planted 3 different varieties this year, and so far I don’t have a preference in flavor (which means next year I can just stick with one variety- yay!).
Tomatillos do very well in Sacramento’s heat, which is not surprising considering they grow like weeds in Mexico. Just like with tomatoes, the size of the fruit can vary on one plant- from the size of a marble, but most commonly it’s between a golf ball and a mandarin. One thing to remember about growing tomatillos is to plant at least two! They are “self-incompatible” so you need at least two plants in order to get any fruit. If you set the plants out at a young age, they may get chomped by bugs(well, mine do), so I plant at least three just in case I lose one!
The fruit is picked when the husk (I call them lanterns) has started to split open, or the fruit has completely filled its husk. The flavor can vary based on what stage they are in. A tomatillo still inside its husk will be tangy in flavor with a slight lemon/grass taste and is lovely bright green. One that has busted out of its husk will taste much sweeter with a slight pineapple flavor and will be either a lighter green or pale yellow color. Of course, coloring will also depend on the variety you’re growing- I have a purple variety growing that has apple green colored fruit with purple shoulders (see picture above). The flavor is best when the fruit is still green, however, unless you are willing to “fondle” every single tomatillo you have growing on a daily basis, it’s much easier to just look for husks that are starting to open.
One thing I love about tomatillos is their long storage life. In the husk, they can last up to two weeks in the refrigerator. If you remove the husk before refrigeration, they can last even longer. Since I like to only have to make salsa verde once a year in a huge pot, I remove the husk, wash the sticky residue off of them, pat them dry, and then freeze my harvest into Ziploc bags until I’m ready to make it. I prefer to freeze them whole out of pure laziness, but some people cut them into smaller sizes. Freezing them whole retains more vitamins and keeps them from losing flavor.
Don’t have enough tomatillos for a batch of salsa verde? You’ve got several options. 1.) Buy some at the grocery store. Most grocery stores carry a small quantity of tomatillos in their produce department. They are usually still in their husks, and are located near the peppers in my grocery store. 2.) You can buy canned whole tomatillos at the grocery store as well, usually located where you’d buy diced chiles and salsa. 3.) Use green tomatoes in their place. This option is especially helpful at the end of the tomato season when you’ve got a bunch of tomatoes on your plants that you KNOW aren’t going to ripen.
As for what to do with all of those tomatillo’s when you’ve got them- salsa verde! If you’d like to try canning your tomatillo salsa, check out this recipe on Lelo in Nopo’s website. I made it last year and it was fairly easy. Not a big enchilada fan? There are other uses for tomatillos besides making salsa verde. I like to slice them and throw them on the grill to serve as a nice simple side dish. You can also add some chopped tomatillos while making rice, when the rice is cooked, drain excess water, add a little lime juice and some chopped cilantro. If you make your own tzatziki for falafel or gyros, try adding chopped tomatillos instead of cucumbers.