Cooking outside the comfort zone: green tomatoes

img_9892In 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).

img_9916Green 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.

Green Tomatoes
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.

Herb sauce
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.

Walnut sauce
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.

Assembly
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.

8 Responsesto “Cooking outside the comfort zone: green tomatoes”

  1. John says:

    My first thought is to use pistachios instead of walnuts, for a greener nutty taste.  (I had to look up pistachios to confirm that they are appropriate for the region.)  My own take would be to use pomegranate molasses, couscous, and rose water, but that's because I'm on a kick with those ingredients lately.  The basic concept sounds delicious.  Thanks for sharing the recipes!

  2. Emily says:

    In my book, green tomato=green apple. Use in pie, chutney, etc. the way you would use a Granny Smith apple!

  3. Breaded and pan fried green tomatoes is a favorite of ours. I learned it from my mother and she from her grandmother. None of us are southerners though. Dang Yankees in fact... :)

  4. bruce king says:

    Farm blogs also typically only publish positive results, as many contributors here can attest. 

  5. Linda Martin-Seng says:

    I have a fabulous recipe from my Grandma for green tomato relish-it is superb!

  6. ella says:

    Green tomato chutney is one of the most delicious things in the world - I would like to make it every year, but sometimes I miss the green tomato window!

  7. JackieB says:

    @Bruce:  Not mine!  I chronicle many of my mistakes and bad experiences on our farm.

  8. Bruce King has made statements like that on other blogs. It is an odd thing to say and this is especially an odd post to say it on. I think it makes him feel superior. He appears to be failing on his farm and feels inferior so he tries to boost his self esteem by cutting other people down. Watch out for him. He can be a very nasty person.

    Early on I helped him a lot when he had questions. Then last year he turned on me and started spreading lies. He claims he has the truth but what he does is takes a quote from someone and changes words or even makes up stuff and then spreads it around the web.

    An example is I said that our livestock get 90% of their diet from pasture and he changed that to be 90% of their _calories_ from pasture. These are two totally different things. I contacted him and explained the error but he kept spreading lies. He went on to use that misquote to attack me in different forums and on his blog spreading lies along the way.

    He's on another rampage against me right now and has just jumped from one forum to another to continue when I disengaged.

    As you note, he's wrong, you're right. Plenty of people, including you and I, write about what works, and about what doesn't work. Not only that, but people want to know about what worked, that is generally more important than all of the failures. We learn from failure but people want to be able to skip over those in a few sentences and focus on what works. That is why most articles in magazines and blogs are about things that work.

    Best thing is to ignore him. The problem with this is he keeps coming back and attacking.

    Second best would be for Bonnie and other web masters to ban him. He is toxic.

    Third best would be to take him to court for stalking and such. He has done this to several people. Someday maybe he'll piss off the wrong person and they will take him to court. He is starting to get craftier about it than in the early stages. I don't think this will be necessary because he has posted on his blog about having a lot of legal/regulatory hassles with the local government, problems with his neighbors, etc. He needs to focus more on resolving issues and making things work right.