23 August 2016So many tomatoes, so little time


Ahh summer. Long days, warm weather, blooming flowers. Fresh vine-ripened tomatoes. Is any summer vegetable more eagerly anticipated than the fresh vine-ripened tomato? When I was a kid, with some cooking skills, one of my favorite lunches was “fried” tomatoes: thick slices cooked in a frying pan, topped with a melty cheese slice. Actually that’s not a bad idea for an adult lunch either, especially if you’re watching calories. Cook the tomatoes on a very thin layer of olive oil and top with your cheese of choice. Jack, Cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, Gruyere and Muenster are all good choices.

If you’re trying to figure out tomato calories, you need to know how much your tomato weighs. A large 3-1/2 inch by 3 inch tomato may weigh 8 oz. When I trimmed and sliced that tomato, I got 3 thick slices, just over 6 oz. That’s 32 calories, 2 grams fiber, an impressive 415 mg potassium, almost 1500 IU vitamin A and 24 mg vitamin C.

If you use those slices to make fried tomatoes, and you put a ½ oz slice of cheese on each slice, your total will be about 200 calories, 12 grams protein (mostly from the cheese) plus 300 mg of calcium from the cheese. You can put your cooked tomato slices on toast for an easy open faced sandwich.

The main problem with summer tomatoes is using them up while they’re at peak ripeness. They don’t last long. There are plenty of easy and obvious ways to use them up:

  • On sandwiches
  • In omelets
  • In burritos
  • On tossed green salad
  • Added to pizza. What pizza wouldn’t benefit from slices of fresh summer tomato?
  • As a really simple side dish or snack, sliced up and seasoned with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of herbs

If you need to find alternatives to sliced or chopped fresh tomatoes, here are some of my favorite ideas:

Caprese salad: There are two ways to make this. Slice tomatoes and overlap the slices with slices of fresh mozzarella topped with a leaf of fresh basil. Line the slices up on a plate and serve. If that’s too much trouble, chop the tomatoes and cheese into ½” chunks and toss together in a bowl with chopped fresh basil, salt and pepper. You can add a dash of olive oil if you like, which mellows the flavor a bit. This type of simple tomato salad is a great way to use different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Make the salad colorful and beautiful by using red, orange and an heirloom purple tomato.

Cachumber: Sometimes called ‘kachumbar’, this is one of my favorite ways to use fresh tomatoes. Think of it as an Indian-spiced salsa. This is my take on it:

  • 2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped (roughly 2 cups)
  • ½ to 2/3 cup chopped red onion (or sweet onion)
  • ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 TB fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • ½ tsp cayenne (or more to taste if you like hot spices)
  • ½ tsp ground cumin

Combine everything in a bowl. Put in refrigerator and let it sit for 30 minutes to bring out the flavors. Add more salt if necessary, to taste.

Makes 4 generous servings as a side dish. Each serving has 26 calories, 6 g carb and 1 g protein

Greek Salad: In Greece, Greek salad is extremely simple – tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, olive oil. Maybe some chopped herbs like basil or oregano. No olives, lettuce, croutons or all the other stuff you get when you order one at an American restaurant. I prefer the simple version. It makes a nice summer side dish, but also works really well as an entrée for lunch or a light dinner, accompanied by bread or corn on the cob. The simplicity lets you focus on the fresh tomato flavor.

  • 1 large fresh tomato
  • ½ cup sliced fresh cucumber
  • ½ TB olive oil
  • 1-2 oz feta cheese (use more if this is an entrée)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ TB minced fresh basil, or ¼ tsp dried basil or oregano

Combine everything in a bowl and serve. Makes enough for 1 entrée or 2 sides. The whole recipe has 160 calories, 11 grams fat, 10 grams carbs and 8 grams protein, using 1 oz of reduced fat feta cheese. These values will vary depending on what type and how much feta you use.

Tomato Corn Salad: This is another all-time favorite summer side dish, and a great way to use up leftover corn on the cob. In fact I deliberately cook extra corn just to make this salad the next day. This recipe makes 6 side dish servings.

  • 2 ears leftover cooked corn-on-the-cob. Grilled corn on the cob makes this even more delicious.
  • 3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
  • ½ to 1 whole jalapeno, minced (how much you use depends on the size of the jalapeno and how much you enjoy spicy food)
  • Juice from 1 fresh lime
  • 2 TB corn or canola oil
  • 2 TB minced fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Slice the corn off the cobs so you have square/rectangular chunks of corn, not separated kernels. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, add salt and pepper to taste. Add more jalapeno if you prefer. One serving has 73 calories, 3 grams fat, 11 grams carbs and 3 grams protein. You can make a heartier dish by adding 1 can drained, rinsed black beans, which boosts protein and fiber, making this more like a vegan entrée. Adjust seasonings if you add the beans.

Tomato Zucchini Curry: I love Indian curries, and this is my own simpler/quicker variation on a recipe I use from an Indian vegetarian cookbook. This is a cooked recipe, and a good way to use up fresh tomatoes that have passed their freshness prime but are still usable. And it’s also a good way to use that infamous summer vegetable: zucchini. Best to use small zucchinis, as they have a more delicate flavor and fewer seeds. I prefer to season with all the individual spices, rather than a commercial curry powder. This is enough for 2-3 people, depending on whether it’s a side dish or a main dish served on rice.

  • 3 cups sliced fresh zucchini (about 1 lb)
  • 2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped (2 cups). The skin of very ripe tomatoes should peel off with little fuss
  • 3 TB cashews (about an ounce) or 2 TB cashew butter
  • ½ to jalapeno, seeds removed and minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or ½ to 1 tsp pre-chopped garlic)
  • 1-1/2 TB canola or peanut oil
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp salt, or more to taste
  • 2 TB minced fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a sauce pan over medium heat and add the zucchini slices. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring several times to avoid scorching. Add the jalapeno and garlic and cook for another minute. Meanwhile chop the cashews, if using (you can use a blender or food processor). Add all the remaining ingredients to the pot except the salt and cilantro. Mix to combine, cover and simmer on low heat for ½ hour. Check the pot every few minutes and add a tablespoon of water if necessary so it doesn’t become too thick and dried out. Turn off heat and add salt to taste. Add cilantro just before serving. For 3 servings, one serving has 160 calories, 12 grams fat, 12 grams carbs and 4 grams protein.

NOTE: if you prefer to use commercial curry powder, leave out the 4 spices and start with 2 tsp curry powder, adding more according to your taste preferences.

Still need ideas? Fresh salsa with tomatoes, chiles, scallions, garlic, cumin and lime juice.

Fresh caponata with tomatoes, roasted red peppers, garlic, olive oil, basil and oregano. Grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches or tomato cheese Panini. Ratatouille is another delicious vegetable medley that uses tomatoes, and you can find plenty of recipes for that on the web. Sick of eating tomatoes? Put them through a juicer for a refreshing low calorie nutrient-rich summer drink.

Donna P Feldman MS RDN
Food and nutrition journalist and consultant
http://RadioNutrition.com

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