Ingredient Focus: Tomatillos

Tomatillos

This is a part of a series where we discuss a special ingredient and how it can be used in the kitchen.

Since our blog references tomatoes, we thought it fitting to talk about its lesser known distant cousin, the tomatillo. Have you ever seen those small green brussel sprout-looking vegetables covered in a papery husk? Those are tomatillos, friends. Underneath the husk, you’ll find a yellow, green, and sometimes purple-ish fruit resembling a small tomato, which is where its name is derived from. Both the tomato and tomatillo were cultivated by the Aztecs around 800 AD and owe their names to the Nahuatl word “tomatl.” Although both are members of the nightshade family and resemble each other in some ways, tomatillos are a bit tarter and more acidic than tomatoes. In other words, I wouldn’t suggest substituting tomatillos for tomatoes in your spaghetti Bolognese sauce.

However, in recipes where tartness enhances the dish’s flavor, you can substitute tomatillos to your heart’s content. Tomatillos are a delicious addition to marinades, stews, and salads, and are absolutely essential in recipes with green salsa.

Tomatillos can be found in your grocery store year-round, but they’re in season during the months of May to November (which means they’re probably cheaper now!). To choose the best tomatillos, take a look at the husk. As a tomatillo ripens, the husk darkens from green to light brown, eventually splitting open to reveal a plump but firm tomatillo underneath. The husks help keep the fruit fresh, but they should be removed before cooking and eating.

Since tomatillos are of Mexican origin, I figured that a Mexican recipe would truly do the fruit justice. I made green salsa chilaquiles, a hearty dish of tortillas simmered in tomatillos and serrano peppers. The first time I ever tried chilaquiles, I was doing an intense internship out-of-state with one of my good friends. There was nothing more satisfying than coming home after a long day of work and chowing down on her chilaquiles with beans, cheese, sour cream, and avocado. Although chilaquiles are typically served for breakfast, who doesn’t like breakfast for dinner? The next time you’re having one of those days at work and just need to drown you sorrows in some comfort food, bust out this simple but flavorful recipe for green salsa chilaquiles.

Chilaquiles Verdes

Chilaquiles Verdes (Yield: 4 servings)

Ingredients:
9 medium-sized tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
2 serrano or jalapeño chili peppers (deseed them if you don’t like spicy food)
1 medium onion, quartered
½ cup of cilantro, chopped with stems removed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chicken broth
Oil for frying
16 corn tortillas, each cut into 8 pieces
2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
For garnish:
Queso fresco
Crema fresca
Cilantro
Lime
Onions, chopped

Directions:

  1. Boil the chicken breasts until cooked, then set aside to cool. Once cool, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Cut the onion into quarters and put on a baking sheet, along with the tomatillos (husks removed) and chili peppers. Broil in the oven for 5 minutes, or until they’re charred on all sides.
  3. Add the tomatillos, chili peppers, onion, cilantro, salt, and chicken broth to a food processor. Puree until it reaches a uniform consistency.
  4. Cut each tortilla into 8 triangular pieces. Pour around ½ a cup of oil into a frying pan and cook on medium heat (oil should be about 1-2 centimeters high). When the oil is hot, cook the tortilla pieces in small batches until crispy. Allow to cool and drain on a paper towel, and remove the excess oil from the pan.
  5. Add the green salsa puree to the frying pan and simmer on low heat until it changes to a darker green color. Add the cooked chicken and mix, then add the tortilla pieces. Cook until the tortillas are well-coated, but still slightly crispy.
  6. Serve the chilaquiles with a side of beans and/or avocado. Garnish with crema fresca, queso fresco, cilantro, chopped onions, and lime.
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