Monday, 19 March 2012

meat-free monday: tales of tomatoes

When I was a kid, I ate tomatoes because they were routinely served up as part of a salad,  as a side dish, or in a sandwich. Given my mom's love of plain old tomato & onion, sometimes they were the main ingredient in the sandwich. I thought that weird, one of those adult things that I didn't understand - like politics, brandy tarts and the appeal of watching the news.
Back then, in a not-so-small town in South Africa, I knew of four types of tomatoes: 
1. Baby tomatoes, grown next to the swimming pool at my granny's house, for snacks in between rousing games of Marco Polo. These were the most fun tomatoes.

2. Tinned tomatoes for sauce, or for grown-up drinks involving celery. Gross. 

3. Big, fat, round, perfect looking, arbitrary-tasting tomatoes from the supermarket.
4. Big, fat, misshapen, ugly looking, arbitrary-tasting tomatoes from the supermarket - which were obviously not as nice as the prettier ones.

Oh, and Fried Green Tomatoes. But that was just a movie, duh.. not for eating...

And then I grew up, moved to Europe, and later, to California for a while - and in between I have been lucky enough to travel to quite a few places the world over. Of course it's important to learn about cultures and people, and see how varied and vast our planet is, but even more exciting is educating oneself about food. 

So did you know that there are 7500 varieties of tomatoes? 

In the UK, supermarkets routinely sell at least 20 different types and sizes, on and off the vine. Plum, cherry, round, beefsteak, beef, table, heirloom, green (no really, not just a movie). Do you want me to go on, 'cos I could? 

And none of them taste half as good as those found in California, or one tenth of how good they taste in Turkey - where I think they ought to put the tomato on their flag, because they are that outrageously delicious. 

Forget being the random addition to a meal, now they take centre stage. Normally I leave baby plum tomatoes out of the fridge for a few days, to get really ripe, then halve them and marinade in olive oil and lemon juice, with lashings of black pepper and Malden Sea Salt. They go on bruschetta, on spaghetti, on salad leaves, on rye bread, over couscous, lentils or chickpeas. 

But then I ran into Donna Hay's Tomato & Sumac recipe, and now I'm mixing it up. Sumac is a slightly citrus-tasting spice widely used in the middle east and Mediterranean cooking. 

Oh - one last thing. Tomatoes rot if you spell them 'tomatoe'.
Tomato and sumac salad
¼ cup (60ml) malt vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 9 vine-ripened or heirloom tomatoes, sliced6 truss cherry tomatoes1 red onion, thinly sliced2 teaspoons sumac
Place the vinegar, oil and sugar in a small bowl and mix until sugar is dissolved. Place the tomato and onion in a bowl and pour over the dressing. Set aside for 10 minutes to marinate. Sprinkle with sumac to serve. Serves 4-6.
images: google, recipe


Lulu Barnes said...

For some silly reason I only came across this post now. I too am a HUGE fan of tomatoes and recently took notice of a recipe for roasted tomatoes in my favourite cook book (Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros, if you don't have it get it, it's the most beautiful testament to family recipes ever).
They're roasted, but almost dried and go with everything or are delicious just on their own. Mmm, I think I'm going to go make a batch now and have a serving of your sumac salad on the side.

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