Thursday, October 23, 2014

Versatile tomatoes can be served so many ways

Posted on Aug. 18, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross

Food & Nutrition

It is the middle of August so it should be tomato time. Many of you are finding that your tomatoes are slow to ripen. I have been told that it is lack of sunshine, but I have a hard time understanding this as I think we have had a great summer with plenty of sunshine and rain.

Plus, our garden is small and on the north side of the garage, which doesn’t get a lot of sun, and we have ripe tomatoes. Just about two weeks ago I prepared one of my favorite food pleasures — I went to the garden, picked a tomato, wiped it off (if necessary) and then ate it right there in the garden. The tomato was wonderful; it could have been a little riper but then it would have been messier.

I have also had several tomatoes with chicken salad and toasted whole wheat bread, lettuce and mayonnaise. Very soon I will have one or more bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. I will have bacon from one our local meat markets so the bacon has real bacon flavor.

I am one of those believers of making the most in food preparation and eating a lot of foods when they are growing in season. I won’t debate the tomato is a fruit or vegetable, I will just write that the time to eat and enjoy them is when they are locally grown and ripened.

Tomatoes are one of the most versatile vegetables. They can be baked, broiled, fried, roasted or stuffed; made into salads or sauces; added to soups, stews or gravies; or used with other vegetables. Just last week I had some of the best stuffed peppers with a tasty rich tomato sauce on them.

The tomato’s most popular use is as fresh eating — sliced and seasoned or cut in salads, or even just eaten out of hand. Tomatoes are terrific any way, and they are a true convenience food with lots of nutrition and little waste.

When selecting tomatoes, choose ones that are shiny, smooth, firm, plump and have brilliant color for the best flavor. Make sure the tomato is a good weight for its size — it should feel heavy. Handle tomatoes with gentle care to prevent bruising.

If you have picked or purchased tomatoes that are not fully ripened, place them in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Too much sunlight causes tomatoes to soften without properly ripening. Light pink tomatoes will ripen in three to five days if not refrigerated. Since most tomatoes are picked mature-feeling but not ripe, they will continue their ripening process in transit to your locality. Remember that tomatoes produce their own ethylene, which stimulates changes in color.

Tomatoes are spheres of healthful eating. One medium-size tomato is about 150 grams or about 5 ounces and provides three-fourths of the recommended dietary allowance of vitamin C, more than one-fourth of your recommended vitamin A, plus iron and niacin. Plus, tomatoes are a healthy eater’s good friend as they have all that satisfying goodness and only 35 calories.

Adding fresh tomatoes in recipes is a snap. When the recipes calls for a peeled tomato, place it on a slotted spoon, dip it in simmering water for one minute and remove. The skin slides right off.

Think tomatoes when you want an interesting brunch or luncheon idea. One of my favorite ways of eating tomatoes is stuffed — they are attractive and easy. Simply cut out a tomato’s stem end and slice into quarters about three-fourths of the way down. Gently pull out the sections. I like to sprinkle the tomato with a little sugar or sweetener before I add the salads and then fill the tomato with cottage cheese, or meat salad such as chicken, tuna or shrimp. Even egg salad or coleslaw are tasty choices. Place the stuffed treat on a bed of lettuce and you’re got a scrumptious meal.

If you are fortunate enough to have enough tomatoes to preserve, the link to the Purdue Publication number CFS-583, “Let’s Preserve Tomatoes,” is mdc.itap.purdue.edu/item.asp?itemID=6905.

Mary Ann Lienhart-Cross is an Extension educator in consumer family science. Write to her at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 533-0554; fax 533-0254; or email lienhart@purdue.edu.