We’ve known each other for a long time so it’s rather shameful that I waited till now to write you this letter. I love many foods (I know you’re not jealous) but I have a special place for you in my life and I thought I’d tell you why.
For starters, you are one of my favourite vegetables, or should I call you a fruit? Or a berry? As that’s what you really are. I love the confidence with which you strolled into the world of vegetables and stayed there. Your nightshade family, Solanaceae,must be very proud.
I was surprised to learn about your struggles when you first arrived on the shores of Europe from your original homeland in South America in the 16th century. For a very long time they thought you were poisonous, used as an ornamental plant called a ‘Peruvian apple’, or a ‘love apple’. Little did the Spanish, French and Italians know, that one day you would become the ubiquitous ingredient in their famous cuisines.
Beyond Europe, you melted many culinary hearts around the world ever since. You have become truly multicultural and your versatility is admirable. From raw salads and soups to stuffed tomatoes and cooked sauces, there isn’t much you can’t do. You can even be used to make a sorbet. That’s pretty neat.
Without you we wouldn’t enjoy our meat pies, pizzas, sausages and pasta as much as we do. We wouldn’t have the Bloody Mary, the Caprese salad, the salsa, or the ratatouille. If you were to disappear, you would leave a big void in our global gastronomy.
I love you in many shapes, colours and sizes. As the classic beefsteak, you are larger than life and juicy, with thick flesh and firm skin. I love to stuff you with delicious things and bake you in the oven. As a cherry tomato or a miniature plum, you’re as sweet as a berry and best eaten raw with a little sea salt and olive oil. When you’re medium and round, you’re a perfect ‘all-rounder’ – I can use you in many dishes, raw and cooked. I even like your hipster cousins heirlooms and kumatos. They always impress my friends at dinner parties.
But enough about your looks, what I really love you for is your nutritional profile (it’s so good you should use it on Tinder).
I know you don’t often boast about this, but a lot of research has gone into studying your health benefits. Inside that little body of yours is a treasure trove of antioxidants – vitamin C and E with their critical support in the cardiovascular system, as well some unique phytonutrients including that really famous carotenoid called lycopene. I’ve heard that it’s considered to be one of the leading antioxidant and heart-supportive nutrients as it helps to protect the fat cells in our blood stream from oxidative damage and thus reduces the risk of heart disease. How cool are you!
These antioxidants also help to regulate the fats in the bloodstream, helping to lower those bad boys LDL cholesterol and triglycerides; protect against certain cancers; and help to keep my skin looking youthful. On top of that you are also rich in potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin K, calcium and B complex vitamins.
I could go and on about your versatile culinary uses and nutritional benefits. The thing is that you already know how wonderful you are. So let me just say that I’ve loved you since I was a little girl eating you pickled with dill and mustard seeds, and I will always have a space for your on my kitchen counter (or on a sunny windowsill if you need ripening). I also promise to choose you as organic and in season as possible because I know that you are at your best then. And I will continue to use you from a tin because I know that you are picked at your ripest for canning.
P.S. I also know that little secret about you being even more nutritious when cooked but I won’t tell anyone.
Till we see each other again in the kitchen,
Tomato salad with pickled onion, avocado & oregano
For the pickled onions & dressing
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2/3 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2/3 teaspoon brown rice syrup or honey
generous pinch of sea salt
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced into whole circles
For the salad
2 medium red tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 punnet mixed heirloom tomatoes, halved
2 kumatos, thinly sliced (pruple brown tomatoes)
1 medium avocado, sliced into strips
2-3 tablespoons of pine nuts
2-3 tablespoons of fresh oregano leaves
generous pinch of sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Mix vinegar, olive oil, mustard, rice syrup or honey and salt in a small bowl. Add the onion and combine together. Set aside for 10 minutes to pickle.
Heat a small pan over medium heat and add the pine nuts. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring every 15 seconds, until slightly golden brown and toasted. Remove to a bowl.
Arrange a layer of tomatoes, then top with avocado sliced, and pickled onions. Drizzle with the remaining dressing, sprinkle the pine nuts and oregano leaves over the top. Finally season with a little extra sea salt and pepper.
Note: You can use a mix of any types of tomatoes available. It’s nice to have different shapes, sizes and colours but not essential.
Irena Macri is an Australian cookbook author, food blogger and recipe developer. She focuses on cooking with whole foods and natural ingredients, with an emphasis on wellness and longevity. Find more of Irena’s delicious, nutrient dense recipes on her websites Eat Drink Paleo and Rejuvenated For Life.