Kitchen Garden Seeds

Tasty Toma Verde Tomatillo

A distant relative of the Gooseberry and the Tomato, Toma Verde Tomatillo grows inside its own little papery gift bag and tastes like a cross between a Lemon, a Pineapple and a Tomato. If you're a fan of Mexican cuisine, you've probably eaten lots of Tomatillos in savory sauces and snappy salsas. In today's culinary world, chefs of all persuasions are finding dozens of new ways to highlight the tart-tangy goodness of Tomatillos. If you don't live in Texas or in the Southwest, Tomatillos can be pricey and hard-to-find in local markets, which is odd, since they are so easy to grow. They thrive with virtually no attention and are seemingly immune to blights, ailments or pesty insects. Just two plants will produce hundreds of fruit over a long harvest season. Lucky us!

As Good Today As It Was A Century Ago
The Tomatillo varieties we eat today are not very different from the ones grown by the Aztecs more than a thousand years ago. And our favorite, Toma Verde Tomatillo, is a high-performing variety with fruit that is more uniform and bigger than most, at about 2" in diameter. Sweeter with a more mellow, complex flavor profile, Toma Verde is green, just starting to mature to golden-green, when ripe. Chopped coarsely, they are delicious raw in tart-sweet salsas. We like them skewered whole and grilled until blackened, or sliced in half and oven roasted with Summer Squash and sweet Onions. Or as a flavorful addition to cooked salsas and sweet-savory sauces. The first Tomatillo sauce we ever tasted was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments of exquisite culinary enjoyment. High in vitamin C and antioxidants, Tomatillos add a sweet citrusy brightness and seductively compelling flavor to homemade pies, jams and exotic chutneys that are absolutely wonderful with chicken, duck and pork.

Easy to Grow From Seed
When growing Tomatillos, particularly in the north, it's important to start seed indoors six to eight weeks before your Frost-Free Date. Sow the seed sparingly in seed starting mix in flats or pots under lights or in a greenhouse. The warmth of a seed starting mat (around 75 degrees F) will help speed germination. Pamper the emerging seedlings with 12 to 15 hours of light each day, moist (not wet) even watering, warmth and good air circulation. (Plants grown on windowsills get leggy and flop over as they stretch for the light: normal daylight length and intensity is insufficient no matter how bright the spot~you really should use fluorescent or grow lights.) Once the seedlings have two sets of true leaves, transplant the strongest seedlings into 4-inch pots. Fertilize lightly on a weekly basis with a diluted liquid fertilizer and increase pot size as needed.

Two weeks after your Frost-Free Date, before transplanting your Tomatillo seedlings into the garden, harden them off by putting them outdoors in a sheltered location for a few hours each day and bringing them in at night. Do this for a week to 10 days, gradually lengthening the time outdoors. This will help them to avoid transplant shock and to thrive. Tomatillos crave heat~no matter how warm you think it may be, hold off transplanting until you have hardened the seedlings off, no sooner than two weeks after your spring Frost-Free Date, when the soil is 65 degrees F or warmer and night time temperatures are reliably above 55 degrees F. To find the Frost-Free Date for your garden, go HERE and use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chart. Select your State from the pull down menu to generate a PDF file with a list of local NOAA data collection sites.

Plant the seedlings one leaf deeper than initially grown in a nice spot with full sunlight and fertile, well-draining soil to which you have added compost, well-rotted manure and/or slow-release organic fertilizer. Since the plants grow into large sprawling bushes, it is important to properly space the seedlings when transplanting. Space the seedlings in rows 24 inches apart with each plant 36 inches apart. Tomatillos still have all the health and vigor of their wild ancestors. To help manage their enthusiastic, rangy, semi-determinate growth, surround them with a large Tomato cage, or even better, a three-foot diameter cage made of reinforcing wire. They develop into bushy plants that measure between three and four feet across. Water moderately after planting and apply a 2" layer of mulch to help conserve moisture later on. Do not over fertilizer since it may prompt the plants to produce more foliage than fruit. Feed lightly as needed with fish emulsion or manure tea.

How do you know when Tomatillos are ripe? Easy: they're ripe when the fruit has plumped up so much that it starts to burst the confines of its papery husks. For our preferred variety, Toma Verde, this happens when the fruit inside matures to medium green, just on the verge of a golden blush. Spotting swollen, ripe green fruit is easiest from below, so crouch down and look up into the plant. Ripe Tomatillos, with their husks still intact, will keep at room temperature for up to a month. Lay them out in a single layer, where there's good ventilation and they're out of direct sunlight. Remove the husk only when you're ready to use the fruit. Ripe Tomatillos are often slightly tacky on the outside, which is perfectly normal.

Mexican Flavors and More
Tomatillos are an essential ingredient in salsa verde, a spicy and flavorful green chili sauce. They can also be combined with Tomatoes in any salsa recipe, fresh or cooked. Tacos, enchiladas, tostadas and tortilla chips all benefit from the brightness of the Tomatillo. A friend from Vermont's very favorite salsa recipe calls for roasting Toma Verde Tomatillos to concentrate their sweetness. Slice two pounds of ripe fruit in half, toss with olive oil and roast cut side down in glass baking dishes at 375 degrees F. At the same time, roast several cloves of Garlic in foil, drizzled with olive oil. Remove the Tomatillos from the oven when the skins are beginning to blacken and the juices have thickened. Puree the roasted Tomatillos and Garlic with one teaspoon sugar, one teaspoon salt, two chipotle chilis en adobo and two tablespoons of the adobo sauce. Stir in 2/3 cup chopped fresh Cilantro. This Roasted Toma Verde Salsa freezes beautifully in zip-top freezer bags. Tomatillos are also good additions to West African and Indian cuisines. We particularly love Jack Staub's recipe for Indian-Style Red Velvet Okra and Tomatillos.