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Tomatillos: The fruit with its own wrapper

August 26, 2012

Giving feels good. For most people, at least. This axiom is the entire reason the non-profit sector I work in exists. Without donors who enjoy the feeling they get from supporting a cause they care about, no charity could keep its doors open. Bloggers on nonprofit development work are constantly reminding us of this: “The greatest gift you can give a donor is to make them feel they made a difference that mattered,” writes Katya.

Outside of work, I’ve found personally that sometimes the best way to raise my spirits is to do something nice for someone else. That’s pretty easy when you’re a gardener in late summer–you have so much to give. So when our quirky, thirty-something neighbor from down the street inquired about our garden the other week, I felt like sharing. We had never had a real conversation before, but he does sometimes comment on our garden when he passes by the fence walking his big dog-little dog combo. I told him everything was going wild and that we had a ton of Swiss chard. His eyes seemed to light up when I said it, so I spontaneously asked, “Would you like some?”

Few people turn down free home-grown veggies, so the next evening I was proudly carrying a bag filled with giant, multi-colored chard leaves down the street. (Our Swiss chard is very tall and very attractive, all crinkly-textured leaves and pink-hued veins.) I delivered them somewhat awkwardly at his door as his little dog danced about on the porch and repeatedly proffered me a stick.

The next day when I was walking to work, he greeted me with a big smile and said “I cooked up that chard and ate it right after you dropped it off. It was delicious!” Not a bad start to the day. It reminds me of one particularly prolific summer in Homewood when we had way more produce to spare than we could even foist off on the neighbors. In desperation not to waste it, my mom set up a table by the street with a big pile of tomatoes and squash with a sign that read “FREE!” By evening, the table was empty, and we discovered an anonymous note scrawled on the back of the sign: “Thank you! God bless you!”

That giving felt pretty good, too.

Maybe that’s part of why going to the farmers’ market is such a fun experience: I always imagine that local and organic farmers take great joy in directly providing other people with fresh fruits and veggies. They’re happy to make us happy: a feedback loop of the most positive kind. It’s still a transaction of course, but it’s an entirely different feeling from grabbing a tomato in the grocery store produce section.

The mighty tomatillo, or “little tomato,” peeking out of their husks.

Most vendors are happy to help you with the discovery process, too. When I first committed to buying tomatillos at the Nichols stand, the nearest worker patiently answered each of my many questions. It was only when I asked, half to myself, “How many should I get?” that he eyed me a little askance as if to say “Do you want me to write out a recipe?”

This fruit, contrary to my last post, IS from across the border. Tomatillos are a staple of Mexican cooking. Also known as tomate verde (green tomato), they are the primary ingredient in, you guessed it, salsa verde. They’re in the same family as tomatoes (nightshades) but not actually that closely related.

They also have husks. I have to admit this was the draw for me. Sure, corn have husks, bananas have a peel. But how many other fruits and vegetables come in their own wrapper?

What it looks like: A glossy green tomato hidden within a lighter green, paper-like wrapper.

What it smells like: A green tomato (creative, I know) with a hint of spice.

How it feels: Once husked, they’re a little oddly sticky on the outside. I tried not to think of Alien eggs and just rinsed them a little.

The recipe: Found on the Foodie Crush blog, which features the “top 10 tomatillo recipes.”

Roasted Tomatillo and Green Olive Salsa
makes 1 1/2 cups

Tomatillo and Green Olive Salsa. Sorry, I skipped the mid-preparation photo!

1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, husked
6 garlic cloves
2 jalapeño peppers*
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup green olives
1 cup cilantro
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
* substitute 1 serrano pepper for the jalapeno peppers if you like more heat

Heat oven to 475 degrees. Spread tomatillos, garlic cloves, and jalapeños on baking sheet and coat evenly with oil. Roast for 15 minutes or until tomatillos are browned and blistered. Remove from oven and place in a food processor or blender with olives, cilantro, lime and sugar. Pulse 5-7 times. Add water and pulse another 4-5 times to mix. Serve with chips or as a topping on eggs or veggie meat.

How it tastes: Green olives can be pretty intense, but they are in just the right proportion in this recipe–or maybe they just blend really well with the roasted tomatillo flavors. This is a bright, citrusy, not too spicy salsa. The tomatillos have a hard-to-describe, fruity-but-not-sweet taste that is a refreshing change from traditional salsas.

Conclusion: For tomatoes, green is the new red.

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