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Plantidote of the Day 2011-06-28

twig's picture


Physalis ixocarpa


Tomatillos are relatives of Chinese lanterns, Halloween favorites that turn up in supermarket floral departments in October. Unlike Chinese lanterns, however, tomatillos are edible. I'm not sure if they're sold all over the country or if they're more of a regional, southwestern thing. But if you happen to see some, they're highly recommended, especially if you like salsa. Most recipes for tomatillo salsa require them to be cooked. But it's summer -- who wants to cook if it's not absolutely necessary? So here's a version that uses raw tomatillos and it is unbelievably delicious, great with chips, fish, rice and beans, etc.


1 pound or so of tomatillos, peeled (meaning remove the paper-like outer leaves, not the actual skin), washed and chopped

1 cucumber, seeded and chopped

2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped

1 clove of fresh garlic, minced
(All the above chopping and mincing can be done in a little food processor)

2 Tablespoons of sugar

Juice of one lime

1 teaspoon of salt (more can be added later)

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Finely chopped cilantro to taste

Combine everything, drain off some of the tomatillo juice and replace the liquid with a few tablespoons of chicken or veggie broth. Eat!

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Submitted by jm on

It's a good looking plant, too. I love the way it first puts out the husks in which the fruit then grow. I have a couple growing in my garden, but we got a late start this year (Spring lasted about a week and a half) so I'm not sure how well they'll produce. Hopefully, it'll be enough to provide for a couple pots of chili verde, my all time favorite comfort food.

jjmtacoma's picture
Submitted by jjmtacoma on

for Chili Verde using home grown tomitillos? That would be so cool! I have admired the plants but never grown them because I didn't know what to do with the fruit.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

I've never grown tomatillos or even seen them on a plant, only in the store. The garden guide says the ripe fruit is yellow to purple and very sweet, but is normally picked while still green and tart. I'll try growing them next year and see what happens.

Submitted by jm on

it doesn't really qualify as cheap eats. Also, I've always judged quantities by eye and taste, so if you follow this use your own judgement and feel free to make adjustments as you see fit.

About 5lbs pork shoulder (I use the stuff that's cut into strips as opposed to a roast)
About an equal amount, give or take, of fresh tomatillos by volume (it'll be a couple pounds I'm guessing). Choose firm ones with smooth skin.
1 largish onion
4-5 jalapeños
1 bunch of cilantro
cayenne pepper powder
cumin powder
1 qt. chicken stock

red bell pepper

--Dehusk the tomatillos and rinse. They'll feel a little sticky. Remove the stem and cut into quarters or eighths depending on size.
--Dice the onion finely.
--Dice the jalapeños finely. I love the flavor of these peppers, so I use more than some people would consider prudent. I limit the heat they provide by removing all but a small amount of the seeds, maybe half of one pepper's worth. My chili is not painful to eat, but it does impart a noticeable tingle on one's lips and tongue.
--Wash the cilantro well. Chop the stems finely and the leaves coarsely.
--Remove the pork from the bone, if any, and cut into largish bite sized pieces. Salt and pepper all sides.

--In a dutch oven sized or larger stock pot brown the meat, a few pieces at a time, on all sides. Set aside.
--Saute the onion with the cayenne and cumin. I use an amount that looks right in the palm of my hand (yeah that's helpful), maybe more than a teaspoon and less than a tablespoon. You can substitute chili powder for these two spices here, but I like a heavier cumin flavor than chili powder alone provides.
--Add the cilantro stems and jalapeños when the onions are about halfway to done.
--When the veggies are soft, add the meat, tomatillos and any bones, and barely cover with chicken stock. If you need additional liquid, you can use water or beer.
--Bring to a boil then reduce heat so that a partially covered pot maintains a very slow boil.
--Cooking time is variable. It'd probably be edible after an hour or so, but I generally let go at least a couple of hours. I judge it by the done-ness of the pork. It should separate easily and melt in your mouth--not really, but you get the idea. Check it periodically and give it a stir. A big part of the comfort this dish provides is in its aroma while cooking. Add more liquid if necessary.
--About a half hour before being done, add a sparse handful of cilantro leaves, more if you like its flavor. Also add the diced bell pepper if you want to add a bit of color (less than half an hour if you like a little crunch, as well).
--If you need to thicken the consistency, add a handful or so of ground up tortilla chips. This will add salt, though, so be careful.
--Adjust seasoning as you like.
--When done, add lime juice if you want an additional layer of flavor. Remove any bones and let sit a bit before eating.

It's better the next day. I usually freeze a couple servings and save them for days that need improving.

jjmtacoma's picture
Submitted by jjmtacoma on

This recipe sounds wonderful! I was thinking if somebody (like me) grew the vegetables then the only purchase would be the pork shoulder and maybe broth.

Is the sliced pork called "Pork Steaks" sometimes? I'm not sure if I've seen pork shoulder in strips, but I wouldn't have been looking.

How many servings do you get from this when you make it?

I'm thinking it might be "cheap eats" enough, particularly for the gardeners. The cool thing about adding this to "Cheap Eats" is that Lambert has created a category to select all the recipes posted with "Cheap Eats" as the title.

During the summer I am going to try to include recipes using garden fruits and vegetables. Well, assuming summer ever gets here!

Submitted by jm on

The cut I use costs $2.49/lb regularly and $1.99 on sale. Another identifying factor is it has a fair amount of fat in it. I've seen it sold both on the bone and boneless, with the latter being more expensive. I imagine it's made up of what remains of the shoulder after the roasts are cut. The butcher at your market could probably help steer you towards it, or suggest something that will work just as well.

I usually get about six servings from a pot. It could probably be stretched to eight servings. I guess if you grow all the veggies and make your own stock, the price per serving would be around $1.50 - $2.00. Not too bad.

jjmtacoma's picture
Submitted by jjmtacoma on

I think the pork shoulder is what I have always called "pork steak" but I bet the package says something else (like pork shoulder) and I have never paid attention to the *real* name all these years!

gizzardboy's picture
Submitted by gizzardboy on

If you grow the tomatillo plants it is easy for them to get ahead of you and ripen from the green stage to a golden tan stage. They remind me in their looks of oversized ground cherries. They are probably related. Ground cherries make an interesting preserve. Does anyone have recipes for tomatillos after they have passed the green stage? I have some plants started again this year.

jerztomato's picture
Submitted by jerztomato on

If you can grow tomatoes, you can grow tomatillos. My growing season is too short, so I won't even try. Back in NJ they grew like weeds. Best of all I only purchased one plant and I never purchased another plant again. I let the over ripe (?) fruit over winter in the garden, the following years I had so many seedlings I had to thin them out.