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posted: 7/21/2010 12:01 AM

Tomatoes abound: Time to put them to good use

Lean and Lovin' It

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I say toe-may-toe, you may say toe-mah-toe, but right now we're all saying: "Yippee, our gardens and farmers markets are over-flowing with tasty, ripe tomatoes."

There's so much nutritionally good about tomatoes that it's hard to know where to start. One large red, ripe tomato weighing in at 6.5 ounces delivers an amazingly low 33 calories. And, it's very low in fat; just 0.4 grams. Plus, it's packed with lycopene (a potential cancer fighter that gives the fruit its red hue) and lutein (keeps eyes healthy) and chock full of vitamins A and C riding along.

Sure, we're all familiar with the standard deep red tomato with its terrific flavors and all the summer meals made better by its presence, but have you checked-out any non-red tomatoes lately?

These days a colorful cornucopia of tomato varieties are available that don't look or taste like your standard sandwich-friendly red tomato. Take, for example, the Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato my brother Tom, a chef, planted in Minnesota this year. When ripe, it's a purplish color with green shoulders delivers a superb, complex flavor (winey with a slightly sweet aftertaste) and can weigh up to a pound. History indicates that Cherokee Indians grew this tomato, hence its name.

If you're not put off by a purple tomato, then you may want to find and try Black Krim, darker than the Cherokee with a sweet, mild flavor. Black Krim got its name from its origination near the Black Sea.

Ever sampled a ripe golden or yellow tomato? Some folks love them and others not-so-much. Golden or yellow tomatoes, most of which are considered "low acid" compared to red tomatoes, deliver a sweeter, less astringent tomato flavor and a texture less grainy than reds.

Look for Big Rainbow, a large yellow heirloom tomato with streaks of red. Slices look great on a serving plate and the flavor's outstanding. If you can locate an all-yellow Brandywine tomatoe, a classic, its excellent flavor and creamy texture won't disappoint you either.

If you happen to come across a unique yellow tomato called Wapsipinicon, give it a try. This is a peach-like, 2-inch yellow tomato that's fuzzy. It won Seed Savers Exchange's 2006 heirloom tomato tasting, so don't be put off by its odd looks.

Green tomatoes have come into their own over the last few years. These are not unripe red tomatoes; they're green when fully ripe. You may have come across Green Zebra, a yellowish green tomato with dark green stripping flowing down from the stem end. They deliver big tomato flavor with a slight tanginess. This is a tomato you tell by its feel (ever-so-slightly soft, like a ripe avocado) if it's ripe, not by its appearance.

It may be too late this year to start growing your own backyard or deck tomatoes, but Seed Savers Exchange and its catalog (seedsavers.org) makes a good place to start considering next year's possibilities.

Try this recipe: Got some deep red, warm-from-the-sun tomatoes and want to do something a little different? When I'm in that position I find preparing a quick-cooked fresh tomato sauce makes a meal that tastes only this good during the summer, especially when fresh basil and farmers market garlic's available.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at don@theleanwizard.com.

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