Salsa verde, chilled and freshly made from home grown tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) is great on a hot day. An excuse for not cooking (much) on (another) one of those sticky, subtropical summer days. Add corn chips and a glass of something refreshing. Tomatillo is an ancient crop. It’s simple enough to grow. Sow in spring, provide the right support, pick off marauding leaf eating ladybirds, water alternate days, and in a few weeks you can pick a bucketful and make your own salsa verde.
Everyone knows well dug, compost rich soil that’s around pH 6.5 to 7 works for most crops. Tomatillos need six hours of sunshine, ideally in the morning. Water seed daily in dry weather, and reduce to watering established plants on alternate days. I give them a fortnightly feed with fortified seaweed. Leaf eating ladybirds and their larvae can harm seedlings, but established tomatillos cope better.
Bamboo frames allows these low growing rambling plants to spread sideways – and they’re less likely to be beaten down by heavy rain or hail.
If you forgot to sow them in spring, a sowing right now will produce fruit up until our subtropical winter. It also gives gardeners in climatically deprived regions – like Melbourne – a chance to grow classy food. In FNQ, it’s best to sow sow in autumn or winter as they can suffer during heavy rain. Rake in half a handful of dolomite per square metre a fortnight before sowing.
You’ll discover young fruit taste bitter. Don’t moan (I get messages), just use a few to give your salsa verde a little bit of bite. Mature fruit taste reminiscent of soft, juicy green apple. Use a majority of these in your recipe.
Pre-Columbian Americans ate them both raw and cooked…yes, they’re not toxic (I get messages about this too). They were regularly eaten when in season and they were consumed in pretty large quantities.
Once you’ve got seed, save seed as you would tomato seed: ferment seed-filled pulp in water for 36-48 hours, then rub off flesh through a sieve, dry and store in a sealed container in the fridge. Seed starts losing viability after three years. Standard stuff.
Salsa Verde Ingredients
1 litre peeled tomatillos;
3 cloves peeled, roughly chopped garlic;
fresh chilli to taste;
1 teaspoonful oregano – or three leaves of Plectranthus amboinicus for those of us growing food in a frost-free climate;
half a cupful of water;
salt or tamari sauce;
* Slice tomatillos in half across the equator;
* Add ingredients into a saucepan;
* Bring to the boil, then simmer for fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally;
* Remove from heat, blend in a blender, decant into a container and cool in the fridge;
Goes well with corn chips and sour cream.
Director, Seed Saver’s Network Inc.
2nd January 2019