Tomatoes. A vine romance

Possum Creek Studios

This article and recipe were first published in the Oz Fitness Journal C.2001

“In his day basil, the royal herb, was for keeping the bedroom free of flies; it had not yet encountered its soul-mate, the tomato” – Jane Grigson

Did you know that tomatoes were once thought to be poisonous like their more sinister relatives, the deadly nightshades -eggplant, potato, tobacco?  It wasn’t until the early 1800s that they gained popularity in America, having earlier been shunned by the Europeans.

The Creoles in New Orleans introduced them to the South to punctuate their local fare however, somewhat ironically, it was the English who gave ketchup to the world.  Having set up the East India Trading Company, they were naturally privy to a vast array of spices from the Orient, which enhanced the British penchant for piquant chutneys, pickles, and sauces.

Ketchup was also known as ‘tomato soy’ and is now prevalent on tables across the globe. In Indonesia and Malaysia, it as common in warungs and hawker stalls as their native soy sauce. Thus by the end of the first world war, tomatoes were beginning to enjoy culinary respect universally.

Most of us envisage sun-drenched Mediterranean vines bursting with ripe fruit that will in turn become the foundation for sauces and salads. Sadly, commercially grown tomatoes seem to lack flavour and texture, and I encourage everyone to sample a real, organically grown tomato (or better still, grow your own), and marvel at the voluptuousness of the flesh and sweetness of the flavour.

In Chinese medicine, tomatoes represent a cooling thermal energy that helps to relieve heat conditions including dehydration, high blood pressure and chi stagnation.  Despite being an acidic fruit, once digested tomatoes have an alkalising effect, especially on the blood.

On the contrary, however, like citrus and the other nightshades, tomatoes can decalcify the system, slowly removing calcium from bones and teeth and transporting it to unwanted parts of the body such as the joints.  Therefore, those suffering from arthritis and other inflammatory conditions should avoid excessive tomato ingestion.

The healing properties of tomatoes lie within the antioxidant lycopene, an active carotenoid that protects against the oxidants that lie close to the cell membranes.  Lycopene provides the colour red in tomatoes; pink in guava, grapefruit and watermelon; and orange in apricots.

Studies demonstrate that the influence of lycopene in the diet – especially in men  –  has been strongly associated with a decreased risk of cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, prostate and of the upper digestive tract.

Lycopene assists in the regulation of male hormone status and carcinogen metabolism, modulation of the immune system and enables new blood vessels to form as cancer invades cells. Lycopene is a thermodynamically stable substance which means it can sustain heat.

Cartenoids are lipophilic – they have an affinity with fat  – and the healing properties are accentuated when they have been enhanced by mild thermal processing.

The most beneficial recipes include gently cooked tomatoes which are then drizzled with olive oil thus enhancing the lipophilic properties of the carotenoid. Synthetic extracts of lycopene are now available, however, wouldn’t it be so much more delicious to source and enjoy the natural alternative?

Recipe

Fresh tomato stack with buffalo mozzarella and red onion        Serves four
4 ripe, organically grown, tomatoes with stems attached
4 buffalo mozzarella or other soft white cheese
1 Spanish onion, finely sliced
¼ cup extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper

  1. Slice the tomatoes into four thick slices, ensuring to keep the stem attached to the top piece.
  2. Place tomato slices onto baking paper under a grill and gently warm through.
  3. Slice the mozzarella into rounds.
  4. Carefully layer the tomato with the cheese and onion slices, alternating so as to resemble the shape of a whole tomato.
  5. Repeat this process with the remaining stacks.
  6. Drizzle each stack with great olive oil and season liberally with black pepper.

 

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