CSA Week Fourteen: Tomatoes

heirloom-tomatoesThe tomato is the fruit of the plant Lycopersicon esculentum. (Botanically speaking, tomato is not only a fruit, but also a berry since it is formed from a single ovary.) Originally, tomato was named after the food family to which it belongs – the Solanaceae (sometimes called “solanoid” or “nightshade”) family.  Although tomatoes are fruits in a botanical sense, they don’t have the dessert quality sweetness of other fruits. Instead they have a subtle sweetness that is complemented by a slightly bitter and acidic taste. Cooking tempers the acid and bitter qualities in tomatoes and brings out their warm, rich sweetness.

Although tomatoes are often closely associated with Italian cuisine, they are actually originally native to the western side of South America, in the region occupied by Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and the western half of Bolivia. The Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador are also believed to be part of tomatoes’ native area. The first type of tomato grown is thought to have more resembled the smaller-sized cherry tomato than the larger varieties.   The word “tomato” may actually originate from the Nahautl (Aztecan) word “tomatl ” meaning “the swelling fruit.” It wasn’t until the 1500’s that Spanish explorers and colonizers brought tomato seeds from Mexico back to Spain and introduced this food to European populations.  Although the use of tomatoes spread throughout Europe (including Italy) over the course of the 1500’s, tomatoes did not enjoy full popularity then and were seen by many people as unfit to eat. Part of this “food inappropriateness” was associated with the status of the tomato plant as a nightshade plant and its potential poisonousness in this regard.

The French sometimes refer to the tomato as pomme d’amour, meaning “love apple,” and in Italy, tomato is sometimes referred to as “pomodoro” or “golden apple,” probably referring to tomato varieties that were yellow/orange/tangerine in color.


Tomatoes are a treasure of riches when it comes to their antioxidant benefits. In terms of conventional antioxidants, tomatoes provide an excellent amount of vitamin C and beta-carotene; a very good amount of the mineral manganese; and a good amount of vitamin E. In terms of phytonutrients, tomatoes are basically off the chart, and include: flavonones, hydroxycinnamic acids, carotenoids, and glycosides.  Tomatoes are most often associated with lycopene (a carotenoid phytonutrient widely recognized for its antioxidant properties) but are also an excellent source vitamin C, biotin, molybdenum, and vitamin K. They are also a very good source of copper, potassium, manganese, dietary fiber, vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene), vitamin B6, folate, niacin, vitamin E, and phosphorus. Additionally, they are a good source of chromium, pantothenic acid, protein, choline, zinc, and iron.


PREP TIME: Since tomatoes are sensitive to cold, and it will impede their ripening process, store them at room temperature and out of direct exposure to sunlight. They will keep for up to a week, depending upon how ripe they are when picked. To hasten the ripening process, place them in a paper bag with a banana or apple since the ethylene gas that these fruits emit will help speed up the tomato’s maturation. If the tomatoes begin to become overripe, but you are not yet ready to eat them, place them in the refrigerator (if possible, in the butter compartment which is a warmer area), where they will keep for one or two more days. Removing them from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before using will help them to regain their maximum flavor and juiciness. Whole tomatoes, chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce freeze well for future use in cooked dishes. Sun-dried tomatoes should be stored in an airtight container, with or without olive oil, in a cool dry place.

Before serving, wash tomatoes under cool running water and pat dry.

If your recipe requires seeded tomatoes, cut the fruit in half horizontally and gently squeeze out the seeds and the juice. However, think about the recipe and consider whether the tomato could be incorporated with seeds intact. There are simply too many valuable nutrients in the seeds that you would not want to lose unnecessarily.

When cooking tomatoes, avoid aluminum cookware since the high acid content of the tomatoes may interact with the metal in the cookware. As a result, there may be migration of aluminum into the food, which may not only impart an unpleasant taste, but more importantly, may have a potentially unwanted impact on your health.

Whenever possible, try to develop recipes that make use of the whole tomato. Research shows higher lycopene content in whole tomato products. For example, when the skins of tomatoes are included in the making of the tomato paste, the lycopene and beta-carotene content of the paste is significant higher according to research studies.


To make your own basic tomato sauce, simply sauté a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and/or 1 or 2 large chopped onions for a couple of minutes until they are translucent. Add 8 to 10 chopped whole tomatoes and a teaspoon of dried—or several teaspoons of fresh chopped—oregano, basil, and any other herbs you enjoy (such as parsley or rosemary). Simmer for 30-45 minutes. Remove from the heat, drizzle with olive oil, and add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. For a fancier version, sauté chopped olives and/or mushrooms along with the garlic and onions.


Late Summer Bruschetta

2-3 large tomatoes
1 crunchy sweet pepper
1 medium sweet onion
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
small handful of fresh basil, chopped
crusty bread (like a baguette)
shredded mozzarella or grated Parmesan

Chop the vegetables into a mid-size dice.  Combine with garlic, 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and basil.  Slice baguette down the middle and lay the 2 sides cut side up.  Brush with additional 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle on cheese.  Broil bread for several minutes until bread or cheese browns a bit.  Top the sections with some of the vegetable mixture.

Tomato Gravy

6 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup water
3 Tablespoons flour

Prepare tomatoes.  Heat oil and saute onions 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add sugar, salt and pepper.  Combine water and flour.  Stir into tomatoes.  Cook and stir until thickened.


MORE TOMATO RECIPES:  Stuffed Tomatoes, Easy Homemade Marinara Sauce, Garlic Roasted Cherry Tomatoes, Baked Parmesan Tomatoes,  Tomato Pie,  Three Cheese Tomato Tart, Oven Roasted Tomatoes,  Seashells with Basil, Tomatoes and Garlic , Easy Garden Gazpacho, Roasted Tomatoes with Fontina and Thyme

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CSA Week Eleven: Japanese Eggplant

ggg ASIAN EGGPLANT:  Eggplant is actually a fruit (it’s part of the same nightshade family that includes the other confusing is-it-a-fruit-or-a-vegetable plant, the tomato). In the U.S., eggplant tends to appear mostly in Italian or Mediterranean dishes, but Southern and Southeast Asian cuisines have long incorporated the fruit as well. Japanese eggplant is noticeably less plump than its more familiar pear-shaped cousin   Japanese eggplant is even more versatile because it has a much thinner skin and is practically seedless. The sponginess of its fleshy inside drinks in seasonings like soy sauce, miso and ginger.  Japanese eggplant is milder and less bitter than other varieties. Since it’s extra spongy, don’t overdo the marinades — a little goes a long way

Eggplant is native to Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Unlike other members of the Solanaceae family, which are native to the New World, eggplant varieties are native to the Old world.  In Modern Japan, eggplant is the third most important vegetable for culinary use.  In France, eggplants are called  “aubergine”  which you may have used to describe that deep purple color in other areas of life.

Raw eggplant is very low in calories, saturated fat and sodium, with only 20 calories per cup. It’s a high source of dietary fiber and is packed with vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folate, potassium and manganese. By leaving the thin skin on, Japanese eggplant  will add fiber to your diet, causing you to remain full for longer periods of time while regulating your digestive system.  Along with other nightshade plants like bell peppers and potatoes, Japanese eggplants also contain antioxidants like nasunin, which is thought to protect cell membranes in the brain.


PREP TIME:  Eggplant is quite perishable and will not store long. They may be refrigerated for up to seven days; however, it is best to use them as soon as possible.  Handle eggplants gingerly, as they bruise easily. When storing them in the refrigerator, wrap in a paper towel, and place in a perforated plastic bag before storing in the veggie drawer.

If you want to freeze your eggplant for future use :
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have a large container of ice and water to fit the eggplant ready.
Slice eggplant about 1/3-inch thick. Work quickly or the peeled eggplant will begin to brown. Place slices into boiling water and cover for 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the slices to the ice water to stop the cooking. When cool, thoroughly drain slices and pat dry. Separate slices with plastic wrap, place into freezer bags, squeeze out all the air, and seal tightly.


ASIAN EGGPLANT

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, stems trimmed
5 tablespoons canned low-salt chicken broth
2 green onions, chopped
2 large garlic cloves
1 small jalapeño chili, chopped
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
4 tablespoons peanut oil
1 1 1/4-pound eggplant, cut lengthwise into 3/4-inch-wide slices and slices cut crosswise into 3/4-inch-wide-strips
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Combine cilantro, 1 tablespoon broth, green onions, garlic, chili and ginger in processor and puree until paste forms.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over high heat until very hot. Add half of eggplant. Cover skillet and cook until eggplant is tender and beginning to brown, turning once, about 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. Repeat with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and remaining eggplant.

Add cilantro paste and soy sauce to skillet and stir over medium-high heat 2 minutes. Return eggplant to skillet and add remaining 4 tablespoons broth. Stir until sauce thickens and boils and eggplant is heated through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.


EGGPLANT IN GARLIC SAUCE

2 asian eggplants
1 tbsp soy sauce
cooking oil
1/2 tbsp of minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 scallions, finely chopped

Cut eggplants into chunks and soak them in saltwater.  Let soak  about 15 minutes.
Mince garlic and ginger and chop scallion.

Heat a skillet up with hot water.  Add a bit of oil and salt to the hot water.  When it starts boiling, throw the eggplants in the hot water for just a minute or until you see the purple skin start turning slightly brown.  This step will prevent your eggplants from absorbing too much oil and getting all greasy.

In another pan, add cooking oil and set at high heat.  Add your minced ginger and garlic.

Add the eggplants and soy sauce, (and optional: sprinkle some sugar) and stir about 5 minutes or until eggplants are cooked thoroughly.  At the very end, add the chopped scallions, stir and turn off the heat.


MORE ASIAN EGGPLANT RECIPES: Stuffed Miso Eggplant, Eggplant Chips with Cilantro DressingEggplant and Tofu Curry, Ratatouille Spirals, Spicy Eggplant Stir Fry, Spicy Eggplant with Pork,  Japanese Eggplant Salad, Roasted Eggplant with Artichoke Hearts and Salsa Verde

 

 

 

 

CSA Week Six :: Cool As A Cucumber

cucAhhhhh.  Just as we enter July and Summer starts to heat up, here come the cucumbers.  The high water content of cucumbers (about 96%) make them a great choice to help hydrate the body. When the body is hydrated it can eliminate toxins, which is good for the kidneys and liver and eating a cucumber every day is considered very effective as a cure constipation.

Some of the other benefits of cucumbers are in the form of silica that can promote joint health by strengthening connective tissue.  Potassium, magnesium, and fiber present in the cucumber can help your blood pressure remain normal.  Cucumbers have shown benefits in helping to alleviate bladder and kidney problems and the water contained within cucumbers  helps smooth the process of renal function with urination. In fact, the cucumber is the best natural diuretic.

I’ve mentioned in the past about the big boosts to your health eating fresh vegetables can provide, but here are a few smaller benefits that cucumbers can give.

Mouth disease on the teeth and gums, pyorrhea in particular, can be treated effectively with cucumber juice and if you take a slice of cucumber and press it to the roof of your mouth with your tongue for 30 seconds, the phytochemcials will kill the bacteria in your mouth responsible for causing bad breath.

That  rich  silica content that helps with joint health can also  prevent rupture and damage to the nails on your fingers and toes.

And lastly, cucumbers have diuretic properties that are beneficial to the skin.  High water content; vitamin A, B, and C; and minerals, like magnesium, potassium, manganese, and silica; make a cucumber becomes an important part in skin care. Face masks containing cucumber extract are used for skin tightening and the ascorbic acid  present in cucumbers can reduce the level of water retention, which in turn reduces the swelling around the eyes. Hence why you always see photos of women at the spa with cucumber slices on their eyes.

And one more skin tip, cucumbers can also refresh topically. Slices of cucumber will help soothe and relieve sunburns.  So if you are short on aloe, reach for a cucumber.


Cucumbers don’t only cool you down on the outside, they are a key “cooling” ingredient in many food dishes, especially in Indian cuisine, where they are mixed with yogurt and herbs and served aside spicy dishes.  If you have some summer tomatoes try mixing them with some cucumber, red onion and a vinaigrette as another way of cooling down.  Then there is my favorite hot weather water recipe–mix sliced lemons and cucumbers with ice in a pitcher and drink throughout the day, a thirst quencher AND appetite suppressor.

Here are some other ways of enjoying cucumbers, including salads, dressings and my personal favorite which is in a bowl in the refrigerator with some apple cider vinegar.  A perfect snack!

Creamy Cucumber Dressing

1/2 cucumber
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Halve cucumber lengthwise, remove seeds and cut into small pieces.
Place cucumber pieces, sour cream, lemon juice, sugar and salt into blender and blend until smooth and creamy.
Refrigerate until ready to use. Store any left over dressing in fridge.


Cucumber Salad

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp celery seed
2 medium/large cucumbers – peeled and sliced
1 medium/large onion – peeled and sliced then cut slices in half and separate

Mix the first three ingredients until sugar is dissolved.
Add the celery seed.
Toss in cucumbers and onions.
Let the flavor build in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours.


MORE CUCUMBER RECIPES:  Cucumber Salad With Sour Cream and Dill Dressing, Cucumber Sangria, Cucumber Tomato Salad, Easy Cucumber Sandwiches, Lemony Cucumber Salad, Watermelon Cucumber Cooler, Cucumber and Herb Triple Decker Sandwiches, Cold Cucumber Soup, Grilled Chicken Panzanella With Cucumber and Feta