Going Green … Tomatoes

Depending on where you live, you’ve already reeled in your green tomatoes, or you will soon. It’s one of those rituals that signal the definitive end of summer, and it can be a sad day if your heart’s not in it. But rather than mourn what you’ve lost, why not celebrate what you’re getting? Green tomatoes don’t have to collect dust in little newspaper graves just because you can’t stomach the thought of frying even one more. Even the best songs get tiresome when overplayed, but green tomatoes are more than capable of learning a new tune.

Sometimes we’re so focused on waiting for that brilliant red blush that we forget to take in the natural beauty of a green tomato. Go ahead — slice one open. Tomatoes ripen from the inside out, so if yours has already started, you’ll see a pinkish-red core bleeding into the surrounding green flesh. If it hasn’t, the tomato will still be that delicious pastel mint color. Now look for a hard white core, about the size of a chickpea, floating somewhere in the top half-inch of the tomato. If you don’t find and remove this extremely bitter piece now, you’re sure to find it later — and promptly run to spit it out. Your best bet is to cut 1/2 inch off the top and bottom of your tomato and toss them into the compost bin before proceeding with any recipes.

One quick warning about eating raw green tomatoes: Most green tomato recipes are cooked — with good reason. Unripe tomatoes contain natural toxins that can unsettle your stomach. These toxins are responsible for tomatoes that taste bitter and caustic (especially under-grown ones, which you’re better off composting). These toxins aren’t present in ripe tomatoes, but you can eat unripe ones, too, if you deactivate the toxins with heat. Of course, there are heirloom tomato varieties, like Evergreens and Green Zebras, that stay green even when ripe. These are best for recipes that don’t require cooked tomatoes.

So now that you’ve found a new appreciation for your green ‘maters, whaddya do with ’em? Once you’ve had your fill of these babies dipped in buttermilk, rolled in cornmeal and fried, get creative. Green tomatoes make great pickles, preserves, and chutneys. Lay green tomato slices in a baking dish with alternating layers of cheese, cooked ground beef, sauce and breadcrumbs, then bake until everything’s tender and bubbly. Stir diced tomatoes into soups or stews for a complex tang. Saut‚ minced green tomatoes with some onions and the last of your corn, toss with lime juice and herbs, and serve over broiled fish for a colorful and mouth-watering accompaniment. Or for an impressive party snack, slice them nice and thin, brush with garlic oil, sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, and dry in a 200 degree F oven until crispy –voila, tomato chips!

I also like it alongside breaded, baked chicken, with hot dogs or sausages, or on top of a whole grain cracker spread with goat cheese. Make extra chow-chow to refrigerate or can, and you’ll be over the moon all winter long. In any case, it’s a great recipe to have on hand, just in case you “happen” to plant your tomatoes too late this spring.
Accidentally, of course.

Green Tomato Chow-Chow
*Makes 8 cups*
1/2 cup jalapeno peppers, destemmed, deseeded and finely chopped
3 pounds unripe tomatoes, cored, top and bottom slices discarded, and finely diced
1/3 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped yellow bell pepper
1 cup finely chopped white onion
1 cup finely shredded green cabbage
2-1/2 tablespoons coarse salt
2 cups vinegar
1 1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons brown mustard seeds
2 1/2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons allspice, whole
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

In a large, nonreactive bowl, toss tomatoes with other vegetables and salt. Cover the surface with parchment and place a plate and a brick on top to press out liquid. Leave in the refrigerator for several hours, then strain off and discard the liquid that runs off. In a large, non-reactive saucepan over low heat, stir together the sugar, vinegar and spices. Bring to a simmer and add the vegetables. Cook for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool completely. Pack into jars and store in the refrigerator for up to one month. To can this recipe, process in a boiling bath for 15 minutes, or 25 minutes at high altitudes.

Copyright 2010, MaryJane Butters.
Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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