Every time my husband and I are in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, visiting my parents-in-law, we make sure to join them for the Saturday ritual of going to the wonderful Carrboro Farmers Market. The market is quite extensive, with cheese, pasta, gourmet soup or bread makers, mushroom farmers, and flower growers, in addition to the usual vendors of fruits and vegetables. There are also organic meat farmers, wood workers and potters. By the time we walk back to our car, our two big straw baskets are full with items such as curry or paprika goat cheese logs, passion fruit cheesecake, vegan tamales, chilled peach soup, a variety of leafy greens or colorful bell peppers. My parents-in-law have stopped grocery shopping in conventional market chains for quite a few years now, as this farmers market has provided the essential healthy food they need for their weekly meals.
This weekend, the farmers market held its annual “Tomato Day.” It’s fascinating to see the diversity in tomato species. There were even yellow or green tie dye-color tomatoes. We were in line to taste a variety of tomatoes, in different colors, sweetness and textures. After tasting at least 15 different types of tomatoes, we all agreed our favorite ones were the “Sunny Golds.” These grape size bright yellow tomatoes were as sweet as those I had years ago in Santorini, one of the Greek islands, where some locals explained how the sweetness of their tomatoes came from the soil rich with volcano ashes. Maybe it turns out to be a myth, as the soil in North Carolina did not come from volcanoes.
After the trip to the Carrboro Farmers Market, I had a delicious fried green tomato biscuit in a local cafe, a warm and soft buttery biscuit with two slices of deep fried green tomato and melted cheddar cheese, a unique harmony for my taste buds.
Did you know tomatoes originated from South America and belong to the Nightshade family that includes eggplants, bell peppers and potatoes? Tomatoes are among the most healthy vegetables globally. Tomato sauce can be found in almost every culture, with a few different spices to make the final taste of one sauce distinctive from others.
Tomatoes are full of powerful nutrients. They are known for their vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, Folate (which is B9 vitamin) and K. Betacarotene becomes vitamin A after consumption.
Lycopene, a substance that gives tomato its red color, can potentially lower the bad cholesterol LDL and, therefore, is considered a heart protective compound. Lycopene and betacarotene are also believed to lower risks of macular degeneration, an eye condition many of us get as we age, which can lead to blindness. These “phytochemicals” are also believed to lower risk of UV damage from the sun.
Potassium is known to lower risks of stroke and heart disease, and is essential for blood clotting and wound healing. One hundred grams of tomatoes, which is a little more than 3.5 ounces, provides about 6% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for potassium in adults. A cup of chopped tomatoes is about 140 grams, while a medium size tomato is about 123 grams.
Folate, one of the major vitamins needed during pregnancy, is important for normal cell and tissue growth.
Several studies over the years have found that cooked tomatoes provide even more antioxidant activities than raw tomatoes, by elevating lycopene levels. Dr. Rui Hai Liu of Cornell University recently confirmed this fact. His study shows that the highter the temperature tomatoes are cooked, the higher level of lycopene is released. However, the amount of vitamin C in cooked tomatoes decreases at higher temperatures.
Given how nutritious tomatoes are, it is wonderful that they are low in calories. One hundred grams of tomatoes have only 22 calories, as compared to 77 calories in the same amount of potato. Do not fall off the chair over this fact, but you should know that 100 grams of potato chips has 536 calories!
I hope you are now motivated to eat more tomatoes than potatoes, and many fewer potato chips. Below is a tomato pie recipe from the Farmers Market, which I am certain has less calories than a sweet potato pie. Enjoy the pie!
Old Fashioned-Tomato Pie
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening cut into pieces
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 to 4 Tbsp ice-cold water
2 1/4 pounds assorted heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground pepper, divided
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup assorted fresh herbs (such as chives, parsley, and basil)
1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
Step 1: Prepare Piecrust: Process first 4 ingredients into a food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal. With processor running, gradually add 3 Tbsp ice-cold water, one Tbsp at a time, and process until dough forms a ball and leaves sides of bowl, adding up to 1 Tbsp. more water, if necessary. Shape dough into a disk, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for 30 minutes.
Step 2: Unwrap dough, and place on a lightly floured surface; sprinkle lightly with flour. Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness
Step 3: Preheat oven to 425 F. Press dough into a 9 inch pie plate. Trim dough 1 inch larger than diameter of pie plate; fold overhanging dough under itself along rim of pie plate. Chill 30 minutes or until firm.
Step 4: Line piecrust with aluminum foil; fill with pie weights or dried beans. This will keep the crust from bubbling up. Place on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.
Step 5: Bake at 425 F for 20 minutes. Remove weights and foil. Bake 5 minutes or until browned. Cool completely on baking sheet on a wire rack for about 30 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees.
Step 6: Prepare filling: Place tomatoes in a single layer on paper towels; sprinkle with 1 tsp. salt. Let stand 10 minutes.
Step 7: Meanwhile, saute onion and 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper in hot oil in a skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes or until onion is tender.
Step 8: Pat tomatoes dry with a paper towel. Layer tomatoes, onion, and herbs in prepared crust, seasoning each layer with pepper (1 tsp total). Stir together cheeses and mayonnaise; spread over pie.
Step 9: Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until lightly browned, shielding edges with foil to prevent excessive browning. Serve hot, or at room temperature.
Take a photo of your finished recipe and tag it with #cfmtomatoday2018