24 October 2008

Spiced Green Tomatoes

Chances are, if you grow tomatoes, you've got a bunch of green tomatoes right now- the impending first frost sent us scurrying to clean up those tired overgrown vines. And even if you don't grow them, your local market is practically giving them away. Someone in my office brought in a bagful of green tomatoes this week and I happily helped myself. An Egyptian colleague of mine, seeing me with my handful, commented, "those will be nice when they ripen up." I looked at her like she was crazy. "I'll probably fry them," I said, "or stew them as is."

Last year, when I had a bounty of hard green tomatoes, I was doing some research into Armenian cuisine. Armenians, many of whom fled to Lebanon and Syria during the Turkish genocide, have a great influence on Levantine cuisine, and many Armenians will lay claim to dishes like lahmajun (lamb pizzas) and spiced red pepper pastes that are found in Middle Eastern cuisine. And yes, I do recipe research in my spare time just for fun. Someone help me.

Anyway, I came across a recipe for green tomatoes stewed with warm cinnamon and allspice. Now, cinnamon is traditionally used in the Levant in savory applications, but I think this recipe really works because green tomatoes are very similar in flavor profile to green apples. It's true, both are firm and slightly tart and you can even find a whole trove of "mock apple pie" recipes made with green tomatoes on the internet.

This recipe was so popular with my family last year I made it repeatedly (good thing we had all those tomatoes). You can serve the tomatoes as a sauce over whole wheat noodles, but I like the tomatoes best served on their own, chunkily stewed and placed in a bowl topped with croutons and a good sprinkling of cheese. It makes the most simple peasant-like lunch, but one that's worth finding a few green tomatoes for.

Spiced Green Tomatoes with Croutons and Cheese
The stewed green tomatoes can also be made into a sauce, in that case, you'll want to chop the tomatoes more finely or pass them through a food mill before using as sauce.

1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
about 6 firm green tomatoes, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
for serving: homemade croutons, cheese (I like feta or a soft goat cheese)

1. Heat a splash of olive oil in a wide deep pan or skillet. Add the onions and garlic and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent.
2. Sprinkle the sugar over and allow to melt and caramelize. Add the tomatoes, salt, and spices and bring the mixture to a simmer. Allow to simmer until tomatoes are broken down and juicy, but the sauce is still somewhat chunky. For me this takes about 20-25minutes, stirring occaisionally. Taste for seasoning.
3. Transfer stewed tomatoes to a bowl and top with croutons, then sprinkle cheese over top. Serve immediately.


eatingclubvancouver_js said...

Ooh, what an intriguing dish. I love the combination of flavours. Hmm, maybe we should try this instead of the fried green tomatoes next time we happen upon some green tomatoes.

Anonymous said...

My english is very bad for writing but finly I fond a propper website with nice Middle East recepies.
We traffel a lot in Egypt and we like the food.
Thanks Ruth from Holland (eu)