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When the Cinco de Mayo season rolls around, the cravings of Mexican cuisine are in full force. Tomatillos are a staple in Mexican cooking, bringing a zesty tart flavor to many classic dishes.

Despite the meaning of the name (tomatillo means “little tomato” in Spanish), tomatillos are not tomatoes, but rather a member of the solanaceae, or nightshade family. However, they are relatives of the tomato, pepper and eggplant, which all thrive in hot, humid weather. Tomatillos have a papery husk on the outside and a green firm fruit on the inside.

The husk is a good indication of freshness, which should be light brown, and not shriveled. Keep the husks on the tomatillos and place in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up two weeks. For longer storage, remove the husks and refrigerate for up to three months. Once you detach the husk, you’ll notice a sticky residue on the surface of the fruit. Simply wash under water to remove.

Tomatillos are a good source of vitamin C. They’re popular for their use in making salsa verde (green salsa). Although you likely won’t find fresh tomatillos right now, as they don’t peak until the summer, you can still enjoy the taste of this lemony-tomato fruit by buying a jar of salsa verde.

Salsa Verde Chicken Enchiladas

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 lime, juiced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon chili powder

2 cups salsa verde

10 corn tortillas

2 cups shredded reduced fat Mexican cheese

½ cup chopped tomatoes

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large saucepan, fill two-thirds full of water and heat to boiling. Add chicken. Boil for 15-20 minutes or until internal temperature reads at least 165 degreesas read by a food thermometer. Drain and shred chicken with two forks or electric mixer. Add lime juice, cumin, garlic powder and chili powder; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Warm corn tortillas in microwave for 30 seconds to soften them. In a 2-quart or 13- by 9-inch pan, assemble enchiladas by spooning chicken in each tortilla; roll up and place seam-side down. Continue until all tortillas are filled. Pour salsa verde evenly over tortillas. Top with shredded cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese melts. Top with chopped tomatoes and cilantro.

Yield: 10 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 200 calories, 8 grams fat, 470 milligrams sodium, 17 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 18 grams protein

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Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306. 

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