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.
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.
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.
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.