I first tried to grow tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) in 2011. I don’t remember much about it, to be honest, but obviously I got some fruit, because I took some photos of it! Equally obviously, a lot of the fruits were left on the plants and rotted away to almost nothing, leaving a very attractive spidery case behind.
I tried again this year, for a Garden Organic Member’s Experiment. It didn’t go well, which is mostly down to me (a) not planning them into the garden (I forgot…) and then (b) not looking after them well. The seeds germinated over the course of several days, which meant the first ones were tall and leggy before the others had even emerged. Then I didn’t have space to plant them out, and when I did they were overrun by the Shark’s Fin Melon, which entangled everything within its reach (and by the end, most of the garden was within its reach…). So the tomatillos were unceremoniously pulled out and put on the compost and replaced with a winter crop.
I know from Twitter that many people had a far better experience with tomatillos this year, because people were asking for recipes. The traditional use for them (in their Central American homelands) is salsa. In fact, salsa is traditionally made with tomatillos, not tomatoes. Garden Organic included a recipe for roasted tomatillo salsa with their experiment instructions:
Roasted tomatillo salsa
This salsa has a tangy taste, and is a great accompaniment to Mexican food. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week.
- 1 lb tomatillos, cleaned, with the papery cases removed
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 small onion, roughly chopped
- Juice of half a lemon
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 green chilli, sliced (optional)
- 2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 200°C
- Put the tomatillos, garlic, onion and chilli on a baking tray. Pour over 1 tbsp olive oil.
- Roast for about 7 minutes, until the skins of the tomatillos are starting to char.
- Blend all of the ingredients, except the rest of the olive oil, in a blender, so that they retain a rough texture. Drizzle the olive oil in last, with the blender still running.
In his most recent update, Anton from Garden Organic has explained that five tomatillo plants is too many plants for most families. Theirs have produced 12 kg so far and are still flowering! You do need to grow at least two plants, though, as (unlike tomatoes) they are not self-pollinating.
Anton has been experimenting with other uses for his tomatillo harvest, and has come up with two recipes you might like to try, which he has been kind enough to allow me to share.
Tomatillo, coconut and green beans
The tomatillos add a tangy sharpness to this variant on a South Indian recipe. It is also a good way of using up bumper harvests of French beans!
- Cooking oil
- 2 large handfuls of French beans
- 4 tomatillos
- 2 teaspoons of black mustard seeds
- ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder
- ½ inch of ginger root chopped finely
- 2 tablespoons of desiccated coconut
- Salt to taste
- Heat the oil in a frying pan until just hot, then add the mustard seeds
- Once the seeds start to crackle, add the French beans, chopped into 1 inch pieces.
- Stir for 5 minutes then add the tomatillos chopped into 1 inch pieces
- Add the remaining ingredients and continue to stir
- Serve when the tomatillo pieces have turned lightly golden, before they start to stick to the pan.
Tomatillos and mushrooms on toast
A quick and easy variant on a traditional dish!
- Cooking oil
- 8 medium sized mushrooms
- 4 tomatillos
- 2 cloves garlic
- Black pepper
- Roughly chop the garlic
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan on low temperature and cook the garlic until just starting to turn translucent
- Chop the mushrooms into 1 inch chunks and cook gently for a few minutes until lightly browned
- Cut the tomatillos into ½ inch chunks and add to the mixture
- Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring well to make sure that all the pieces of tomatillo are cooked – the flesh will turn from white, to slightly cream coloured.
- Add black pepper and serve on toast – this quantity will serve 2.
I don’t think tomatillos will be on my garden plan for next year – there are too many other things I’m currently excited about growing – but I will make another attempt at some point in the future. The Organic Gardening Catalogue sells seeds for both green tomatillos and purple tomatillos (which are supposed to be a bit sweeter), and purchases via the OGC help to fund Garden Organic’s work. If you’d to keep up with the latest from Garden Organic, you can find them on Facebook and Twitter.
How about you? Did you grow tomatillos this year? What have you made with your harvest?
This blog post was written by Emma Cooper and was published on The Unconventional Gardener website. If you're reading it elsewhere you may want to navigate away from plagiarised content.