The tomato is a popular food in many cuisines and they’ve been grown in gardens in nearly all parts of the world for centuries. For these reasons, pinpointing it’s origin is difficult, but it’s likely that the tomato is native to South America where many varieties still grow wild in the Andes Mountains. Tomatoes have been part of the South and Central American culture for quite some time. In fact, Aztec writings dating back to 700AD mention dishes comprised of peppers, salt and tomatoes, a concoction which seems likely to be the original salsa recipe.
From South America to Southern Europe, the tomato was introduced by the Spanish explorers and happliy accepted into the kitchen. But as it moved north in Europe, there were many skeptics and even the British, believed that the tomato was poisonous. This thinking was brought to the New World by the British and it has only been in the last 100 years or so that Americans have eaten tomatoes. Nonetheless, the tomato has made up for it’s slow start and is the most popular vegetable in America.
Tomatoes are low in calories and very nutritious. They are high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Potassium. Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene which works in the body to prevent “free radicals” from binding with oxygen, a combination that can damage healthy cells. Lycopene helps reduce your risk of cancer (especially prostate), it guards against ARMD (Age-Related Macular Degeneration), an eye condition that may cause blindness, and may be an inhibitor to heart disease. Lycopene is found in fresh and cooked tomatoes. In fact, cooking tomatoes increase lycopene levels and yes, even ketchup contains lycopene.
At the market: There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. In most cases, ripe tomatoes should be completely red or reddish-orange. They will have a sweet, subtle aroma and will give slightly to gentle palm pressure. August and September are the height of tomato season, which means it’s the best time to eat them fresh – their flavor and texture are perfect!
More exotic or heirloom varieties of tomatoes are yellow, green, purple or even striped. While color is not the best indicator of ripeness for these varieties, smell and feel are still good tests.
Storage: Countertop at room temperature. Tomatoes will continue to ripen. Once fully ripe, a tomato can be refrigerated, but only for a few days; any longer results in flavor and texture deterioration.
RECIPE: Sweet Tomato Salad
- 1 cup fresh tomatoes, seeded and cut into bite- sized pieces
- 1 cup cantaloupe, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. lime or lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
- Dash of salt
Place tomato and cantaloupe in a bowl. In a separate bowl whisk together the dressing ingredients. Just before serving, pour the dressing over tomato and melon and toss to coat.
Creative ideas to add tomatoes into meals:
Grilling tonight? Add tomatoes to the list of foods destined for the BBQ. You’ll be very surprised at the outcome. Grilling tomatoes intensifies the flavor and adds a wonderful hint of smokiness. Simply cut ripe tomatoes in half, brush them all over with Italian salad dressing. Place them cut side down on the hot BBQ grill. Turn after about 3 minutes and finish cooking about 5 more minutes.
Fresh Tomato Bruschetta: Kind of hard to pronounce, we think it is Italian for versatile. Traditionally served on small pieces of toasted bread, bruschetta is a simple and flavorful appetizer. For a burst of freshness in your main course, serve it on top of grilled meats or fish. And for a quick change to pasta or rice, just toss the tomato mixture in before serving.
- 4 plum or Roma tomatoes
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and fresh ground pepper
Directions: Seed and dice the tomatoes and place in a bowl. Add minced garlic, olive oil and toss to coat the tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Let stand a room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.
For variations add:
- 3-5 finely chopped basil leaves
- 1 Tablespoon of each chopped parsley and mint
- 2 mashed anchovy fillets
- 2-4 Tablespoons crushed black or green olives
- 2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Stuff a tomato: Forget the bread, and use a tomato to hold chicken, tuna, or egg salad. Simple cut the top off and scoop out the inside with spoon. To prevent your tomato from rolling off the plate, slice the rounded part off the bottom and it will sit flat.
Quick BLT Salad: OK, forget the bread again. Here is an easy way to turn a favorite sandwich into a delicious salad. Simply add cherry tomatoes (cut in half) and fresh bacon bits to green leaf lettuce or spring mix. Toss lightly with ranch dressing.