Cooking outside the comfort zone: green tomatoes
In the world of science, there's something called "publication bias," which recognizes that studies with positive results are more likely to be published than studies with negative ones. I suspect there is a similar bias in the world of food blogging: a blogger is much more likely to spend time writing a post about a recipe that turned out well than one that didn't. I know that I've often been affected by "food blogging bias," so in this post, I'm striking a minor blow against it by writing about a recipe that didn't please me, figuring some Ethicurean readers might still find it the best recipe ever or gain some inspiration from its ideas.
The stimulus for my foray is Bonnie's suggestion that farmers market enthusiasts cook outside of their comfort zones during National Farmers Market Week (August 1-7). At last week's market, I bought some turnips with greens and wrote about how I used them at my other blog, Mental Masala. Then, a week later, I made three extra-zonal purchases: green tomatoes, agretti (Salsola soda, a.k.a. Barba Di Frati), and purslane (Portulaca oleracea).
Green tomatoes were part of my market day because of a recipe in Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean: a green tomato that's baked, then hollowed out, stuffed with walnuts and other flavorings, and topped with a tart multi-herb sauce.
The recipe came together easily enough, but I wasn't terribly happy with it – the filling was a bit dull and the herb sauce not to my liking. However, the flavor of the baked green tomato was good, and so I see this as a promising way to use green tomatoes. Since their pale green color and tartness reminds me of tomatillos, I can imagine a filling of rice with cilantro and chorizo; or cheese curds, raisins, and sauteed zucchini. Or, going back to the Middle East, with some cracked wheat, walnuts, pomegranate molasses, and herbs. The possibilities are endless.
With summer often ending before all of the tomatoes have ripened, it's good to know a few ways to cook the green ones. Of course, there is the classic Southern dish of fried green tomatoes, which appears in numerous cookbooks. I found two other promising recipes in my cookbook library: a green tomato omelet in Deborah Madison's The Savory Way and curried kohlrabi, green tomato, and lentil soup in Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grains Cooking.
What are your favorite ways to cook green tomatoes?
Although this recipe didn't turn out so well for me, I highly recommend The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean. Wolfert's book, one of a handful of volumes she's written about cooking near the Mediterranean, was a revelation for me, showing me food from parts of the Mediterranean that don't get much attention: Syria, Georgia, Macedonia, southeastern Turkey, to name a few. Like other books by Wolfert, it is much more than a collection of recipes — it's an exploration of culinary culture, a culinary travelogue.
Recipe: Baked Green Tomatoes Stuffed with Walnuts and Herb Sauce
Adapted from The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, by Paula Wolfert. This recipe is divided into four sub-recipes – baking the green tomatoes, making a herb sauce, making a walnut sauce, and the final assembly – with ingredients and instructions for each part under each sub-recipe.
4 mature green tomatoes (about 1 1/2 lb.)
Salt, pepper and sugar
Grill the tomatoes over warm glowing coals until the skin is blistered and the flesh is tender. Or bake in a 400 F oven. When done cooking, plunge them into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking, then let them cool on a plate.
Core the tomatoes and scoop out the seeds and pulp, leaving the outer walls to hold the tomato together. Reserve the pulp and juices. Sprinkle the insides of the tomatoes with salt, pepper and a little bit of sugar.
1 tablespoon each of chopped parsley, dill and basil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Pinch hot dried red pepper (like cayenne or Aleppo)
1 tablespoon reserved juices from the tomato
In a small glass or ceramic bowl, combine the herbs, salt, dried red pepper, 1 tablespoon of the reserved tomato juice, and one-half teaspoon of vinegar.
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
2 sprigs cilantro
1 tablespoon tomato pulp and juices
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Put the walnuts, garlic, salt and cilantro into the bowl of a food processor. Process briefly until combined.
About 1 hour before serving, pack the walnut sauce into the tomatoes and place on a serving plate with the filling side up. Heat the sauce in the microwave or a small saucepan, then spoon it over the filling in each tomato. Set the filled and sauced tomatoes aside for about 1 hour, loosely covered.
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