Tomatillo mole

Tomatillo mole

Tomatillo mole

We are growing tomatillos and their close relatives, Cape gooseberries, this year for the first time. The latter we are just eating fresh – none have yet made it as far as the house – whilst we have been enjoying the tomatillos in a simple Mexican inspired mole. This is quick and easy to prepare and has a wonderful fresh flavour with some tartness from the tomatillos.

Tomatillos are a member of the nightshade family, along with other crops such as potatoes, peppers, and aubergines. The leaf form is quite like that of a chilli pepper. The plants grow quite large and have a highly branched habit. This makes supporting them and tying up a nuisance. They are, though, easy enough to grow and produce a good crop from just a couple of plants – they are said to be quite self incompatible, so more than one plant is needed for good pollination.

Tomatillos

Tomatillos

The fruit is the size and shape of a small to medium sized tomato, although the flesh and seeds are more similar to that of an aubergine. Like the closely related Cape gooseberry – both of the genus Physalis – the fruits are enclosed in a thin husk. The husk develops early, whilst the fruit is still small. The fruit then expands until it fills the husk. A sticky substance is exuded that can sometimes make it tricky to peel away the husk from the ripe fruit and requires that the fruits receive a good washing before use. The husk does, though, offer a useful indicator of ripeness – they are ready for use when this has turned light brown and papery. They fruits have a refreshing acidity that makes them an excellent base for a spicy and tangy sauce.

Simple ingredients for a tomatillo mole

Simple ingredients for a tomatillo mole

There are many recipes for a tomatillo mole, some with quite an array of ingredients. Here, though, I take just a few ingredients, process them simply, and the result is wonderfully fresh and vibrant. The recipe combines tomatillos with red onions and chillies. For the chillies, I want to get some of the fruity flavours coming through with a pleasant background warmth, rather than just heat. I use the mild green poblano peppers, also known as ancho chillies when dried, and various others for heat. The poblano is an authentic addition. Ideally, I would add some serrano chillies for heat, but did not grow any this year. Lacking an authentic option, I added instead a few mild Padron chillies along with a Hungarian black for some heat and more great flavour. A good pinch of salt and a generous squeeze of lime is all that is needed to finish. Fresh coriander leaf would be a common addition to such a sauce, and would certainly go well with it. I did not add any, though, preferring instead to leave the fruit flavours to dominate. I include it in the recipe as an optional ingredient. Exact quantities of ingredients really are not critical. I have made this since with a different selection of chillies and different proportions of the ingredients, but the result was equally delicious.

Roasted and ready to blend

Roasted and ready to blend

The sauce makes a great addition to tortillas. Alternatively, add to some roasted chicken portions for the last five minutes of cooking and serve with rice for a simple but delicious meal.

Roast chicken with tomatillo mole and rice

Roast chicken with tomatillo mole and rice

Ingredients

(serves 6) 

  • 8 to 10 green tomatillos
  • 2 or 3 poblano peppers, or other mild pepper
  • 2 serrano chillies, or other medium hot chillies
  • 2 medium red onions
  • 1–2 limes
  • 1 small bunch of fresh coriander (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Maldon salt

Preparation

Peel the onions and cut in half. Leave the poblano peppers whole, but cut the hot chillies in half and remove the seeds if desired. Remove the husks from the tomatillos and wash carefully.

Method

Place the onions, chillies, and tomatillos in a roasting dish. Add a good splash of olive oil and turn to coat.

Roast in a hot oven, 200–220°C, for 30 to 40 minutes. The chillies will char a little, the onions should soften, and the tomatillos will yield quite a bit of juice.

Remove the stalk, seeds, and membrane from the roasted peppers. Transfer the onions, chillies, tomatillos, and all the juice, to a suitable vessel, add the coriander, if using, and blend until smooth.

Season with a good pinch of salt and the juice of one or two limes, according to taste.

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