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On the Highest Perch



TOMATILLO PLAYS HIDE AND SEEK

IN A PAPER LANTERN



Includes Recipe Below

A well-established South of the border immigrant, the tomatillo, with its roots deeply planted in the ancient Aztec culture, needs no visa today. It's even possible that the tomatillo, which means little tomato in Spanish, came from Central and South America and was cultivated in Mexico by the Aztecs before the tomato arrived. Some people call it a jamberry, while others refer to it as a husk tomato.

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.

Tomatillo 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.

SHOPPING
Tomatillos are available in most large chain grocery stores. Because they are an essential ingredient in Mexican cooking, they can always be found in Latino markets, where they are also available canned. Select tomatillos as you would tomatoes, choosing those that are firm rather than soft. By the time they reach the market, their husks are often partially opened, making it easier to choose tomatillos with good color. Store them in the refrigerator until ready to use. If the tomatillos are fresh, they will store up to two weeks in good condition. However, like any fresh vegetable, they should be used soon after purchase.

PREPARATION
Remove the cellulose husks and wash the tomatillos thoroughly. You'll notice they have a slightly sticky surface. This is normal.

RAW
Tomatillos can be chopped and added to any salads.

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.

STIR FRIED
Tomatillos can be briefly stir fried in a little olive oil, vegetable broth, or water. They have a high water content so don't add too much liquid. Cook along with some onions, garlic, and bell peppers for a tasty side dish. Season to taste with a little salt and pepper.

SIMMERED
Salsa Verde is a typical sauce served with enchiladas or burritos. Combine chopped tomatillos, chopped onions, chopped cilantro, chopped garlic, chopped serrano chiles, salt and pepper in a saucepan and cook gently 6 to 8 minutes.


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.


CASHEW TOMATILLO SAUCE Cashew

2/3 C. (158 ml) cashew pieces

1 1/2 lbs. (679 g) fresh tomatillos

1 fresh poblano pepper (also called pasilla), diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground cumin
Freshly ground black pepper

1 C. (237 ml) unsweetened soy milk

  1. Using a small electric coffee grinder, grind cashews into a powder and set aside.
  2. Remove and discard outer husks from the tomatillos, wash thoroughly, and chop tomatillos. Put tomatillos into a large skillet or flat bottom wok.
  3. Add poblano pepper, garlic, onion, salt, cumin, and pepper to skillet. Cook over high heat about 6 or 7 minutes, stirring to cook evenly.
  4. Add soy milk to skillet and stir well. When mixture begins to bubble, add ground cashews a little at a time. Stir until thickened and smooth, about 2 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

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.


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