How to Taste Tomatoes

Behold: the tomato! The true emblem of summer, pride of gardeners, most vegetable of fruits. I’ll admit I’m nowhere near the tomato devotee as many I know, but even I wait patiently through spring, biding my time and ignoring out-of-season supermarket mush in favor of relishing the first Early Girl tomato of the season. Because every true tomato fan knows, the only time to eat tomatoes is summer.

Last weekend, my friend Andrew hosted an impromptu mid-summer Mexican feast. This guy puts your friends to shame, let me tell you. Homemade corn tortillas, gourmet carnitas, calabacitas with fresh corn and poblanos, black beans simmered slowly in a clay pot, crumbled queso fresco. Best of all, three homemade salsas that really showed off what a ripe tomato will do for your evening. The pico de gallo and smoky salsas were superb, but what really stood out was a tomatillo guacamole recipe he culled from the magazine Saveur (see recipe 3). The tomatillos added a tart pick-me-up to a normally creamy and subtle sauce. I’ve officially found my new favorite taco topping.

Tomatillos aren’t even closely related to tomatoes; instead, they belong to the same family as the gooseberry. But in Mexico, the word “tomate” refers to tomatillos, and to request a conventional red tomato you’re going to have to ask for a “gitomate.” There’s no real reason to include a tomatillo recipe in a post about tomatoes, so I’ll just go with this tenuous etymological link.

Back to the subject at hand: summer’s triumphant red offering. I’m not someone who can devour tomatoes whole. I find the flavor too overwhelming, too sweet and watery and acidic, and would rather pair the fruit with other spices and foods. Here are three recipes that allow you to sample and savor this season’s harvest, and not feel totally submerged.

1. Quick and Spicy Gazpacho

From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Pre-Blended Gazpacho

  • 2 pounds tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 peeled cucumber
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 serrano chile (or 2 if you like more of a kick), seeded and chopped
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • some lemon to taste
  • salt and pepper
Put all ingredients in a cuisinart or blender. I pulsed mine so that it didn’t get blended too fully; it’s nice to leave some texture and crunch. Serve cold with lemon or lime to taste. This gets better over time, so refrigerate leftovers and enjoy all week.

2. The Vegetarian’s BLT
Passed on to me through the Sylva family, this recipe is one you’re going to initially wrinkle your nose at. But trust me; it’s worth a shot. Combine the following ingredients in sandwich format:
  • Crusty baguette, sliced long ways
  • Peanut or almond butter
  • Mayonnaise (I prefer Vegannaise)
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Ripe tomato slices
3. Guacamole Taquero
 Adapted from a recipe first published  in Saveur
  • 4 tomatillos, husked, rinsed and chopped
  • A handful of cilantro
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 a lime, juiced
  • 2 serrano chiles, seeded and chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 ripe avocado, pitted and sliced
  • 1/4 a white onion, chopped
Mix everything in a food processor, and combine until creamy. Use as a dip, or to top carnitas, calabacitas, roasted poblanos, mashed potatoes, and/or of course, tacos.
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