01 January 2016

The color of love

The color of love
Tomatoes were known as love apples in their native South America, and there are plenty of reasons to love this fruit. Pauline D Loh argues the case with some no-cook recipes.

TOMATOES are rich in the phytonutrient lycopene, a fact that they advertise very loudly with their rich vibrant color. Lycopene comes with a litany of health benefits. It is supposed to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prostate and other cancers. It is a powerful antioxidant which can neutralize free radicals that damage cells in the body and past studies have shown that lycopene is twice as powerful as the orange-colored beta carotene, another potent anti-oxidant.

Tomatoes are also a valuable source of vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium and potassium. Harvard researchers discovered that men who consumed 10 servings of tomatoes a week cut the risk of developing prostate cancer by a formidable 45 percent.

Researchers also found that eating raw tomatoes lower the risk of developing rectal colon or stomach cancers by 60 percent.

Now that we all know how good tomatoes can be for you, let's go to the real reasons why we love the tomatoes. It is just so delicious!

Tomatoes are very flavorful, and that's partly because it contains a natural flavor enhancer similar to monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Now you know why the Italians have built an entire cuisine around this humble fruit. (It is technically a fruit, although it is used more as a vegetable - if you define "vegetable" as any part of the plant that can be eaten.)

Another advantage this amazing fruit has is that it loses nothing to cooking. In fact, it actually benefits from additional processing, unlike other fresh fruits and vegetables. Cooking concentrates the lycopene and the addition of a little fat such as olive oil or cheese helps the body absorb lycopene better.

There is a luscious assortment of tomatoes shining out from supermarket shelves and fresh market stalls. Thanks to the wonders of greenhouse gardening, hydroponics and other organic farming methods, tomatoes are coming to us picture perfect, plump and red.

Some are best eaten raw - such as the little honey red and cherry toms. More than ever before, red and yellow plum tomatoes are also enjoying a renaissance in popularity. The larger tomatoes, blushed with red-tinged orange which gets deeper and deeper if you allow them to tan on a window ledge in the winter sun, can be cut up and eaten just like that, or cooked in a vast variety of ways.

Pasta dishes - with its combination of tomato paste and fresh tomatoes - make best use of the rich red and fleshy beef tomatoes or large plum or Italian tomatoes on the vine. They are a bit expensive, but make up for that with great bursts of flavors.

For me, there is a cornucopia of dishes that can be made from the tomato, without even starting the stove.

Macerate some in a splash of rum or vodka and dip them in salt and pepper. Stand them on their bottoms and serve them chilled as a simple starter. Or, hollow out a few rich red toms and fill them with a mascarpone filling, dotted with diced cherry radish, shallots and spring onions.

Or cut up a few tomatoes and serve them with thin wafers of crisp root vegetables, and drizzled with some deep green extra virgin olive oil.

My personal favorite is a tomato salsa, a legacy from my Californian days when a packet of nachos and a salsa made from fruit plucked from the backyard was sunshine in the mouth on the coldest winter day.

The humble tomato has come into its own, and every family deserves to give this fruit-vegetable a lot more attention. It looks good, it tastes good and best of all, it is good for you. What's stopping you? Try these quick and easy ways.
The color of love 
| Tomato cups
Ingredients (serves 4):

8 large cherry tomatoes
4 tbsp mascarpone cheese
2 cherry radishes, finely diced
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
1 small red chili, finely sliced
1 sprig fresh rosemary or thyme, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
1. Slice the top off the cherry tomatoes and hollow each out with a teaspoon. Sit the tomato cups on a platter.

2. Place the mascarpone cheese in a small bowl and add the diced radishes, chili, shallots, chopped rosemary, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.

3. Spoon cheese filling into each tomato cup. Garnish and chill.

4. Serve cold.

The color of love
| Tomato winter salad
Ingredients (serves 4):

8-12 large cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 cherry radishes, finely sliced
1 small carrot, peeled and shaved into wafer-thin slices
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
1 small pomegranate, seeds reserved
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves plucked
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
1. Wash and dry the tomatoes, cut into quarters or smaller wedges if the fruits are large.

2. Toss tomatoes, radish and carrot slices together. Pile on a platter.

3. Add pomegranate seeds and spring onions.

4. Drizzle olive oil over the salad and add rosemary leaves. Season with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Chill well to serve.

The color of love
| Salt-dipped tomatoes
Ingredients (serves 4):

16 cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp rum, vodka or any clear liquor
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Method:
1. Slice the top off the cherry tomatoes and then slice a thin wafer off the bottom so they all sit steadily on a plate.

2. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the rum or vodka and allow to macerate for an hour or so in the fridge.

3. Pour the salt and cracked black pepper into a small saucer. Stir to mix.

4. When ready to serve, dip the top of each tomato into the salt and pepper and sit each upright on the platter again. Serve chilled.

The color of love
| Tomato salsa
Ingredients (serves 4):

2 large red tomatoes, chopped
1 large green tomato, chopped
2 shallots, minced
1 small bunch green onions, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
1. Place the minced onions in a salad bowl and marinate with lime juice and a generous sprinkle of salt.

2. Add chopped tomatoes and spring onions.

3. Mix salsa together well and leave to let flavors mature in the fridge.

4. Adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper and serve chilled salsa with salted crackers, nachos or potato chips.