Have You Met… Tomatillos

Eat Well Edibles Have You Met...

This post is part of a series meant to spotlight ingredients, providing nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage you to take an adventure into new markets and cuisines.

Have you met… tomatillos?

Suspicious about why some pale green tomatoes are hidden inside a tiny crepe paper lantern? You should be. Tomatoes these are not; they’re tomatillos. Oh, and those green salsas at your local Mexican restaurant? Also tomatillo!

Although the literal translation from Spanish is “little tomato,” and another of its monikers is the Mexican husk tomato, the tomatillo (pronounced toe-muh-tee-oh), is only distant kin to that juicy red summertime favorite. Tomatillos are actually more closely related to the ground cherry, or cape gooseberry. These cousins are all members of the extensive and very ancient botanical family Solanaceae, or nightshades,* to which potato, eggplant, bell pepper and chili peppers also belong.

First cultivated by early mesoamerican civilizations, credit goes to the Aztecs for domestication. The tomatillo continues today to be a staple of Mexican and central American cuisines, and is spreading in popularity — for deliciously good reasons.

What’s so great about them?

Naturally low in calories (about 20 per 1/2-cup serving), tomatillos contain zero cholesterol, and negligible amounts of fat and sodium. This serving provides nearly 10% and 15% of your daily needs for vitamin K and vitamin C, respectively, plus about 5% of the DVs for potassiummanganesefiber and niacin (B3).

Tomatillos contain the pigments lutein and zeaxanthin — antioxidant carotenoids associated with improved eye health and reduced risk of age-related visual decline, including macular degeneration. Research is studying potentially anti-cancer compounds called anolides found in tomatillos, which may help protect men from the formation of colon cancer cells.

In small amounts (roughly 1% to 3% of your daily needs per serving), tomatillos provide magnesiumphosphorousiron and the trace mineral copper, plus vitamin A and several of the other B vitamins.

*Concerned about eating nightshade fruit + veg? Let us please debunk the myths.

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Hoarding Veg + Spicy Asparagus Pickles

Eat Well Edibles Recipe

This time of year my culinary dreams are filled with overflowing baskets of delicate green vegetables — peas, artichokes, fava beans, leeks, baby lettuces, garlic scapes, nettles and other wild greens and herbs.

The one vegetable that truly heralds spring’s arrival: asparagus.

Ice bath asparagus_HGN

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Som Tam: A Tiny Kitchen Adventure

Eat Well Edibles Recipe

Som tam is the intensely flavorful green papaya salad made-to-order at street-side stalls in northeastern Thailand. Closer to home, you can find it on the menu at most Thai eateries, and occasionally at those specializing in Vietnamese or Laotian/Hmong foods.

My first taste of som tam was five or so years ago at a market in St. Paul, Minnesota, the sleepy sister city of Minneapolis. (Not as curious a place to encounter an authentic version when you learn that the Twin Cities are home to one of the largest populations of southeast Asian immigrants and refugees in the country.) My salad was prepared to-order in the traditional very large clay mortar with a wooden pestle practically the size of a baseball bat used to bash and mash shreds of unripe green papaya with snake (green) beans, chunks of tomato, peanuts, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind, fresh chilli peppers, and the occasional sprinkling of tiny dried shrimp.

When the young woman stopped her mashing to ask my preferred level of heat, I responded something along the lines of “make me sweat a little.” Her look insinuated this might be a mistake, but I nodded to confirm my decision — one that seemed less wise as a mess of chillies went tumbling into the mortar. No going back now. We finished our conversation about her returning home to Vietnam over the summer, and she handed me the salad in a large styrofoam cup.

The initial bite was fierce in the best possible way. She certainly dialed it up with those chillies, but it wasn’t so overwhelming that I couldn’t enjoy the contrasting flavors and textures. It’s an impressive feat, and her som tam was enough for me to wish for a mountain of frequent flier miles and an unexpired passport. It immediately became one of my “must-order foods”: if it’s on the menu, I’m ordering it. Purely for research and comparison purposes, of course.

As someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen, and will likely never make it to southeast Asia for a truly authentic version of som tam, I was more than eager to try my own hand at home.

Green Papaya Shreds

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