The Spanish conquistadors, intrigued by many of the foods the Aztecs typically enjoyed, might have brought these treasures back with them to Spain. The name they introduced into Spain for these wonderful fruits of the vine was actually a corruption of the Aztec word for tomatoes. The Aztecs referred to a plump fruit as tomatl. The tomato, in their language, was xitomatl and tomatillos were called miltomatl. However, the Spaniards brought back "tomates." Historians are not sure if tomatoes or tomatillos or both were offloaded from the explorers' ships.
Tomatillos earn their diminutive name by their petite size that varies from that of a cherry tomato to one of a small tomato. What makes them unique in appearance is their paperlike cellulose husk covering that resembles the shape of a small green lantern that hangs downward from the bushy, annual plant on which it grows. Inside the protective husk is a smooth, plump, firm variety of tomato that is usually picked green. When fully ripened, they are actually yellow, but these are rarely brought to market. The husks turn a greenish brown when the fruit is losing its freshness.
With their dense, highly seeded interior, tomatillos burst with a distinctive tart, lemony flavor that makes them the perfect ingredient in Mexican dishes such as Salsa Cruda, a fresh salsa dish, as well as Salsa Verde, a cooked green sauce used in many Mexican dishes. Tomatillos also contain a pectin-like substance that thickens the sauce or salsa upon refrigeration.
The highly nutritional aspects of tomatillos may surprise you. One medium raw tomatillo contains only 11 calories, yet it packs 91 mg. of potassium. That same little fruit contains 4 mg. of vitamin C, 2.4 mg of calcium, 2.38 mg. of folic acid, and 39 IU of vitamin A. Imagine the benefits if you include several in your recipe.
Tomatillos make an excellent addition to a raw soup when you want that tangy, lemony touch. Begin with just 1 tomatillo in the blender along with your other soup ingredients, and taste. Add more as needed.
Make your own Salsa Cruda with chopped tomatillos, chopped tomatoes, chopped onions, chopped jalapeno, chopped cilantro, lime juice, and a touch of salt.
Enjoy tomatillos in this unique sauce that offers delightful tang in a thick, creamy base. Serve this hearty sauce over pasta, baked potatoes, and grains. It can even make a tasty hot dip to serve as an appetizer.
NOTE: When serving, you may want to garnish with a sprinkle of turmeric or paprika, 1 tablespoon or two of finely minced red bell pepper, or a tablespoon of finely shredded carrots.