Well, this one's a tad confusing. Tomatillos look like compact green tomatoes, and are sometimes called Mexican green tomatoes. Like tomatoes, they hail from the nightshade family and are a respectable source of vitamins A and C.

But they're not tomatoes.

The tomatillo (toe-mah-TEE-yoh) is a tart fruit that tastes a little like lemon and apple and grows inside its own papery husk, which is a cinch to remove. Fresh tomatillos are generally used by the handful. They are firm throughout but are not very juicy; they have seeds, but you don't have to remove them.

HOW TO SELECT Choose firm tomatillos with husks that are dry and not too ragged. Fresh tomatillos are available just about year-round in many grocery stores. You might find canned tomatillos, but they won't substitute well in recipes that call for fresh ones.

HOW TO STORE In a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to a month.

HOW TO PREPARE Remove the husk by pulling from the bottom of the tomatillo belly up to where it attaches at the stem. You might feel a slightly tacky-sticky coating on the husk's underside, which is okay. Wash the shucked fruit before using it.

When tomatillos are cooked, their skin softens a bit. Roasting them in their husks in a 450-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes will concentrate their flavor, but be sure to remove the husks and let the fruit cool before you incorporate it in your recipe.

HOW TO EAT Pureed, chopped or thinly sliced. Tomatillos work better in the harmony of a salsa or salad. They are often found cooked in enchiladas, Mexican egg dishes, queso fresco, soups and sauces.

Raw tomatillos show up in some crowd-pleasing guacamoles, but their decided crunch certainly stands out in otherwise creamy surroundings.

Salsa Cruda

Makes 11/2 to 2 quarts

Yes, you could make this authentically in your mortar- and-pestle molcajete. However, the soupier quality of this salsa made in a food processor is a good thing. This recipe's quick (nothing needs to be seeded) and involves little more than a cutting board, food processor and a container to store the pureed results. Serve with tortilla chips. Adapted from the "Creme de Colorado Cookbook" (Junior League of Denver, 1987):

6 to 8 medium tomatoes or 8 or 10 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped

12 firm-skinned tomatillos, large ones with their husks removed and quartered

1 small bunch scallions, roughly chopped (white and all green parts)

Juice of 1 lime

1 bunch cilantro, most of the stems removed

3 Anaheim (hotter) or Cubanel (milder) chili peppers, stems removed

1 small jalapeno pepper, stem removed

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon sugar

In a food processor, add the ingredients one at a time pulsing after each addition until you get the salsa consistency you're after. You can serve it right away, but the salsa tastes even better if it sits overnight in the refrigerator. The salsa can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Per 1/4-cup serving: 12 calories, trace protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, trace fat, 0 mg cholesterol, trace saturated fat, 149 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

-- Bonnie S. Benwick