I’m going to start off with an acknowledgement that the tomato is a highly controversial food. Not just that it is really considered a fruit and not a vegetable; no, no. It seems that the tomato is treated almost like a cult. People tend to be passionate in their belief about this highly versatile food. Praised for its high quantities of lycopene, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and fiber, many adore the naturally sweet flavor and low calorie aspects of this brightly colored fruit/vegetable. Research shows that lycopene is important in prostate health as it reduces the risk of prostate cancer.
There are those who believe that tomatoes are very bad for your health. First of all, they belong to a group of plants called nightshade plants; these plants grow primarily at night. Among this group are some very poisonous plants. Many people experience heartburn, acid reflux and other symptoms of indigestion when they consume tomatoes. This is believed to be due to the high levels of vitamin C which make the tomato acidic. Some people have allergic reactions, as well. Studies have shown that consuming tomatoes aggravates arthritis and is believed to raise inflammation levels throughout the body.
This article is not intended to convince you either way on the benefits or dangers of tomatoes to your health. I believe in the 90/10 rule. I eat as healthy as I can, avoiding junk food, processed flours and sugars, and drink lots of water 90% of the time and I allow 10% for whatever my heart desires, guilt-free. If tomatoes are part of your diet, I want to share with you some ideas of what you and your family can do to get the most out of them.
Tomatoes that ripen on the vine are packed with flavor and contain the most nutrients. I recommend growing them at home. Tomato plants are very easy to grow and one plant will produce a lot of tomatoes. They grow quickly and are fun for children to care for because every day the growth is noticeable. Whether you want large tomatoes for slicing or small ones for a salad, there are many varieties to choose from.
If you prefer to buy your tomatoes from the grocery or market, look for ones that are organic, if possible, and locally grown. In any case, always wash all of your fruits and vegetables before eating or preparing them to reduce exposure to pesticides and toxins.
A tomato is ripe when it turns red and is firm but not hard. An unripe tomato will continue to ripen on a window sill even after it has been picked off the vine. Ripe tomatoes should be stored in the crisper of your refrigerator until ready for use. Tomatoes that have started to become soft should be used immediately.
How to Turn Tomatoes into Family Fun:
The kitchen is a great place to build memories and strengthen the family bond. And kids really enjoy making their own food. If you cook with your kids it is highly likely that they will cook with their kids; what a wonderful legacy to pass along. Cooking food doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated to be really good; fun and love are key ingredients.
I am going to give you the basic steps for cooking with fresh tomatoes that you can use to make spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, base for tomato soup, or salsa. The process is very much the same and you will, no doubt, find inspiration to create other dishes once you get the hang of it.
Start with fresh ripe tomatoes. Get your family together to pick out the tomatoes you are going to use. Depending on what you’re making, it can take quite a few tomatoes. Make sure you wash the tomatoes and remove the stems before you use them. Do not cut them.
The next step involves blanching the tomatoes so you can remove the skins. A strainer or large slotted spoon is helpful to remove the tomatoes from the boiling water. I also recommend a colander to put the boiled tomatoes in. Half fill a large pot with water, and bring the water to a boil. Add the tomatoes and keep the water boiling for 2 minutes. Scoop the tomatoes out with a strainer or spoon and allow them to cool and drain in a colander. Keep adding tomatoes to the boiling water until all are cooked.
When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, cut out the core and any hard spots, and peel off the skin. Kids of all ages can peel the skin while older kids can remove the core if they are familiar with using a knife.
When all tomatoes are blanched and cored, put them in a pot on medium-low heat. Use a wooden spoon to help break apart the tomatoes as they cook. Once they start to break down and are cooking in their own juice, turn the heat down to low, cover with a lid, and allow them to simmer. Periodically, stir and break apart the tomatoes.
At this point, how long the tomatoes cook and what you add to them depends on what you are making. As the tomatoes break down, add seasonings, onions and garlic to taste. For tomato sauce for spaghetti or pizza, allow the tomatoes to cook for approximately 2 hours or until they have cooked down to the consistency you prefer. For a thicker sauce, leave the lid off and turn the heat to medium, allowing the sauce to boil. Stir frequently to avoid burning the sauce. As the sauce boils, the water will dissipate and the sauce will thicken. To make a base for tomato soup, continue to cook until the sauce is smooth and thick (to this you would add milk to make it creamy). To make salsa or hot sauce, the tomatoes should remain chunky. Salsa takes half the time to make as tomato/spaghetti sauce.
I recommend using enough tomatoes to overfill a standard size colander twice, for spaghetti sauce, to feed a family of four. Use half of that for salsa. These are generous quantities, but after your first batch you will figure out if you need more or less. The sauces freeze well, so I recommend freezing any extra to use in the future. As a matter of fact, I recommend making extra to freeze so that you can enjoy it again whenever you like. You can use the same sauce to make a variety of meals such as spaghetti, lasagna, soup, pizza, etc. so it is time saving and made just the way you like it.
Look for recipes in future articles that you can use your homemade tomato sauce. In this article, I have included my recipe for making salsa. Experiment with it to see how hot you like it.
Homemade Texas Salsa
8-12 large tomatoes, or 2lbs (any size really, but enough to fill a standard size colander)
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or pressed in a garlic press
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
–deseeded for mild
–keep all seeds for hot
¼ cup chopped cilantro
2-3 TBSP red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
½ tsp. salt (add more salt to decrease the sweetness of the salsa)
1 tsp. cumin
Blanch tomatoes, core and peel. Add tomatoes to a pot and cook until they start to break down. Add onions, garlic, peppers, vinegar and spices; continue to cook until salsa is the desired consistency or approximately 45 minutes. Remove pot from heat and stir in cilantro.
Allow to cool before serving.
Serve with corn chips, or use as a topping for omelettes, fish, baked potato, or other dishes.