Bring on the tomatillos

I was introduced to the wonder of the tomatillo by my friend, Lupe Rodriguez, a number of years ago.

Until she unveiled this vegetable to me, I had no idea it even existed.

It is most prevalently grown in her home country of Mexico.

Seeing how I barely even leave Nebraska, that would explain my newfound wonder in this weird item of produce.

If you have never seen a tomatillo . . . I will describe it. It looks like a small green tomato . . . but it’s not.

It is waxy to the touch and is wrapped in a thin husk. It’s like a green tomato in a thin corn husk . . . but it’s not.

Lupe showed me how to use this vegetable in a wonderful sauce that can be a form of salsa . . . but hot, it makes an incredible base for stewed chicken or beef, with a kick from the south.

You cook it and blend it with a number of other vegetables, including jalapeños . . . then it’s pureed into a beautiful, green and creamy situation.

At that time, Lupe had a patch of volunteer tomatillo plants growing in her yard so she dug up a few plants and gave them to me.

She said to stick them in the ground, “pay no attention,” and let the plants do their thing.

So I did as Lupe commanded. I was especially good at the “pay no attention” part.

They are not fond of great amounts of water, so I could neglect them all I wanted.

I watched as the plants grew quite tall – and then runners expanded throughout the entire edge of the garden.

Amazingly, little tomatillos started to form on the branches . . . looking like little berries at first. Eventually they evolved into exactly what I was looking for . . . husks and all.

We indulged on tomatillo dishes that fall.

When my plants didn’t voluntarily come up the next spring and Lupe’s wild patch was removed from her yard, I realized I would have to buy plants or seeds. Therein was the problem . . . they just aren’t as available here as other vegetables because they aren’t so widely popular or even recognized.

I had lamented to my friends, Todd Kirshenbaum and Bob Sautter, how I was having a tough time finding plants or seeds and the tomatillo experiment was probably dead. I also enlisted them to keep their eyes open and let me know if they ever ran across such a thing in their travels.

Sure enough, Bob presented me with a flat containing several tomatillo plants . . . and I promised to make them some tomatillo sauce in the fall, in return.

Unfortunately, the plants were only in the ground several days before the hail clouds came and the garden was reduced to coleslaw.

No tomatillos that year.

Occasionally, I have been able to find them (the actual produce) in grocery stores here . . . and I buy every single one I can.

Plus, we can buy them by the case from a food supply company.

But I really looked forward to growing them once again.

Then “planting day” rolled around this year – the one day I have off from work in which everything must go into the ground, regardless if there is a threat of frost, snow, throngs of locusts, tornadoes or other types of natural disasters.

On that particular day, Bob and Todd pulled up in front of my house, saying they came bearing a gift. And there it was – a carton of tomatillo plants they found at a local greenhouse.

“It’s yours,” Bob said, with a sparkle in his eye. “Time to bring on the tomatillos.”

I profoundly thanked the two for their sweet gesture and I promised I’d give it my best.

I stuck the plants in the ground and I won’t lie – the first week was pretty rough on them because they were drowned in rain water right before near-freezing temperatures arrived.

The little tomatillos didn’t look so hot at first.

But now, they are starting to look like they will make it. I think they just need more of a climate like found in their homeland.

They may have had a challenging start, but I feel good about these guys.

Every day they get a little bigger . . . and I’m already imagining the tasty benefits from these weird little vegetables from south of the border.

Bob and Todd, I will make you tomatillo sauce this summer if they produce. I promise.

And yes, Lupe, I promise, “Pay no attention.” Again, I’m really good at that.

According to Wikipedia, “the tomatillo was domesticated in Mexico before the coming of the Europeans and played an important part in the culture of the Maya and the Aztecs. Today, the plant is grown mostly in the Mexican states of Hidalgo and Morelos, and in the highlands of Guatemala.”

They forgot to list . . . “and in Melanie’s yard.”

Here we go again. Bring on the tomatillos!


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