For a long time, I steered clear of tomatillos - not because of an aversion, but I simply didn't know what do with them. Well, I am here to tell you that these little tomato-esque "vegetables" are easy to use and a delight to eat. Their flavor is tart and vegetal with a hint of fruit, and they add pucker-y brightness to salsas and stews.
Tomatillos are in fact classified as a fruit (like tomatoes) and are a member of the nightshade family. They are wrapped in a papery husk, which, when removed, reveals a crab apple-sized green fruit that resembles a tomato. Tomatillos are native to Central America, which helps to explain why they are a prominent ingredient in salsas. If you've had a green salsa or salsa verde, then you've had a tomatillo.
A fresh tomatillo should be firm, unblemished and bright green in color. They can be eaten raw or cooked. When eaten raw, their tartness will be pronounced. Roasting tempers their acidity, coaxing out their natural sweetness, while adding a smoky, charred note.
To prepare a tomatillo, remove the paper husk and wash the fruit to remove the sticky film that coats the surface. When roasting, halve the tomatillos crosswise and broil, cut side down (or grill skin-side up) to get a light char on the skins. You want those skins in the salsa for the extra flavor.
The salsa in this recipe can be enjoyed straight up on a chip, spooned over tacos and casseroles, and dolloped over grilled meat, fish, poultry and vegetables. In this recipe, it's the base for a simple and bright chicken stew. For extra depth of flavor, I've marinated the chicken in citrus and herbs to amplify the salsa.
Lynda Balslev is the co-author of "Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture" (Gibbs Smith, 2014). Contact her at TasteFood, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit the TasteFood blog at tastefoodblog.com.