JEFF TIEDEMAN: Tomatillos — tart to the tasteSalsa containing this fruit adds a lot to traditional Mexican dishes
There seems to be a lot of interest this spring in planting a garden.
In Grand Forks, the downtown food co-op, Amazing Grains, is renting plots between South Third and Fourth Streets near the water treatment plant through an arrangement with the city. There also are garden spots available to the public west of Interstate 29 on Park District-owned land and at All Seasons Garden Center on South Washington Street.
And during strolls with my dogs around the neighborhood, I’ve noticed several new backyard and side-of-the-house gardens.
One reason people might be taking up gardening is that it helps cut down on expenses during our so-called “Great Recession.” Another is maybe people have been inspired by first lady Michelle Obama, who has the first vegetable garden on the White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt’s of the early 1940s.
My main motivation for planting a garden is that I love fresh veggies, and canning is one of my passions.
Along those lines, I’m always on the lookout for new things to grow that will please my palate. This year, I’ve decided to grow the tart and tasty tomatillo, a fruit native to Mexico and Guatemala that resembles a small green tomato in size, shape and appearance except for the fact that it has a thin, paperlike covering. (Tomatillos have been used by Aztec and Mayan cooks for thousands of years.)
A close cousin to the tomato and also related to the cape gooseberry, the tomatillo is a staple of Mexican salsas. South of the border and in the Southwest, “salsa verde” is used with tacos, tostadas, tamales, tortas, guacamole and other Mexican snacks. In restaurants, customers usually have the options of a green or red salsa to “spice things up.”
I first was introduced to tomatillos by former co-workers Tim Fought and Marcia Harris, who raised them in raised garden beds at their home at the corner of Eighth Avenue South and Walnut Street.
On a couple of trips to Mi Mexico, one of Grand Forks’ newest eateries, I’ve sampled salsa verde, which is served as topping with meals or on the side with chips. A manager told me they have four kinds of tomatillo salsa, ranging from mild to very hot.
(You can make your own salsa verde by roasting three large tomatillos and a jalapeno pepper, then blending them with ½ onion, two garlic cloves and a dash of salt.)
After one trip, Therese said that I should grow some tomatillos. Because it was too late to start any from seed, I bought three plants at a local nursery. (While very prolific, you need at least two plants before they will set fruit, since tomatillos are not self-pollinating.)
From my research, I’ve discovered that growing tomatillos is easy. They thrive in the average garden, with full sun, well-drained soil, regular water and some fertilization. Plants need support to grow their best and to keep the fruit off the ground, so you should stake or cage them. (Tomatillos are available year-round in supermarkets.)
Tomatillos also have some nutritional value. They are rich in vitamin A and contain a good amount of vitamin C. They’re also low in calories (20 calories per ½-cup serving).
I can’t wait to make my first salsa verde. But you can bet it won’t be like the one at Mi Mexico that contains habanero peppers.
Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at email@example.com.