During tomatillo season, June to October, I make a weekly run to the Alvarez Farm stand at the Broadway Farmers Market...

During tomatillo season, June to October, I make a weekly run to the Alvarez Farm stand at the Broadway Farmers Market (also found daily at Pike Place Market) and cart away a pound or two of beautiful green, yellow and purple tomatillos. They’re a high-summer treat, juicy and bracingly tart, and essential for all sorts of Mexican dishes.

If I were an Olympic judge, I’d give the August farm-stand tomatillos a 10. But here’s the trick: I’ve picked up tomatillos at the supermarket in April, and I’d have to give them at least a 7.

One of the great things about tomatillos, you see, is that they’re seasonal but not too seasonal. I can go to QFC in the dead of winter and get a sharp, fresh taste for dinner. Just try that with tomatoes or corn.

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True, sometimes the supermarket tomatillos sit in the bin too long and start to get moldy or mushy. On those days, you have to pass them by — though if the papery husk is merely dried up, that’s OK. You have to pick over the supermarket bin carefully, whereas nearly all of Alvarez’s tomatillos (not to mention those from Tonnemaker Orchards and other local farms) are perfect.

What should you do with your tomatillo haul, in season or otherwise?

I work them into pozole (pork and hominy stew), enchiladas, a sauce for salmon. Eddie Alvarez of Alvarez Farm says he likes to use them with pork and green peppers in a chile verde.

In pureed form, tomatillos give everything they touch a full-bodied mouthfeel, much like a long-simmered stock, minus the long simmering.

Many recipes call for boiling tomatillos; I prefer to broil them. It concentrates the flavor, and the blackened skin, once blended in, gives the finished dish a nice color.

Tomatillos don’t have to be cooked, however. You can make a fresh-tasting salsa with raw tomatillos, or slice them thin and toss them with a vinaigrette for a fresh pickle that is great on burgers. Or make a tomatillo gravy for shrimp and grits. I give it a 10.

Shrimp and Grits with Tomatillo Gravy Recipe

Serves 4

My favorite white stone-ground grits are available from Anson Mills (www.ansonmills.com, $34 for 3 pounds, including shipping), but this will still be delicious with supermarket quick (not instant) grits.

Shrimp Stock

1 ½ pounds shell-on large shrimp (26 to 30 per pound)

3 cups water

½ teaspoon peppercorns

1 bay leaf, crumbled

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper


1 ½ cups stone-ground grits

1 ½ cups whole milk

3 cups water

2 pinches kosher salt, plus more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste


1 pound tomatillos, husked and rinsed

1 jalapeño pepper, minced

¼ pound slab bacon or 3 slices thick-cut bacon, diced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup chopped green bell pepper

½ cup chopped yellow onion

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Peel the shrimp, reserving the shells. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the shells, the peppercorns, bay leaf, salt and cayenne. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the broth (you should have about 1 ½ cups) and reserve. Discard the shells.

2. While the broth simmers, stir the grits into a bowl of cold water and allow to settle. Corn hulls may float to the surface. Skim off the hulls and drain the grits. (Skip this step if you are using supermarket grits.) In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and the water to a boil over high heat. Add the grits, stirring with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium, add the salt and cook, stirring occasionally.

3. Once the grits thicken (about 10 minutes), reduce the heat and cook, stirring frequently and adding water if the grits become too stiff. Cook until the grits are fluffy and creamy, 90 minutes. Season with more salt, if desired, and pepper; reserve.

4. While the grits cook, place the tomatillos on a foil-lined sheet pan or cast-iron skillet. Broil them about 3 inches from the flame or heating element, turning them as their skins blacken, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the tomatillos to a food processor or blender and puree to a soupy liquid. Add the jalapeño and reserve.

5. Place the bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the bacon is firm and just golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, leaving the fat behind.

6. Add half the shrimp to the pan and sear quickly, about a minute per side, leaving the shrimp slightly undercooked. Remove the shrimp to a plate and repeat with the remaining shrimp.

7. Add the butter, bell pepper and onion to the pan. Sauté until the pepper and onion just begin to soften, about 2 minutes.

8. Pour 2 tablespoons of the shrimp broth into a small bowl, add the flour and whisk until it becomes a smooth paste. Pour the remaining shrimp broth into the skillet with the pepper and onion. When the broth reaches a simmer, reduce the heat to medium and cook at a vigorous simmer until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes.

9. Add the flour paste to the pan, whisking vigorously to distribute the flour evenly throughout the broth. Add the tomatillo and jalapeño mixture to the skillet, stir and return to a simmer. Cook until the gravy thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon heavily, 5 to 7 minutes more.

10. Add the reserved shrimp and bacon and continue cooking until the shrimp are pink and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the grits among four plates and ladle the shrimp and gravy on top. Serve immediately.

— Adapted from “The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook”

Matthew Amster-Burton is a Seattle freelance writer. He can be reached at mamster@gmail.com. Barry Wong is a Seattle-based freelance photographer. He can be reached at studio@barrywongphoto.com.