Vine-Ripened Tomatoes on Low Carb? by Dana Carpender

As I write this, it’s ninety-four degrees in the shade and humid. Ugh. Makes hiding in my air-conditioned office writing this column pretty appealing.

Still, there’s one truly wonderful thing about late summer here in the Midwest: Local vine-ripened tomatoes. This time of year folks sell them out of pickup trucks all over town. I often buy them from a lovely old man who stakes his claim in the parking lot of the local Kmart. Heck, my neighbors simply gave me a sackful the other day, bless them.

These locally grown tomatoes are vastly superior to any I can get in grocery stores, even this time of year. Why? For the very most part, grocery store tomatoes are picked before they’re really ripe, or else they’d squish during shipping. Often they’re varieties that have been bred for thick skins and uniform size, rather than for flavor. They simply can’t compete with juicy, ripe beauties that came off the vine just hours ago.

I hope you live where you, too, can buy vine-ripened local tomatoes, and that you take full advantage of the season’s bounty. By the way, don’t refrigerate tomatoes; it kills the flavor and turns them mushy. I line mine up on my kitchen windowsill.

One medium tomato has just 26 calories, with 6 grams of carbohydrate, a gram of which is fiber. With a super-low glycemic index of just 15, that tomato will have a glycemic load of 0.9. Go for a big one!

Considering that modest carb count and teeny glycemic load, you’ll get a big ol’ heap of nutrition: 39% of your vitamin C, 15% of your vitamin A, 8% of your potassium, 5% of your thiamin, B6, and folacin, 4% of your niacin, 3% of your riboflavin and iron, even 1% of your calcium and zinc.

You may have heard by now that tomatoes contain an antioxidant called lycopene. This is very good stuff. Tests on human subjects have shown lycopene to be a potent preventative of many kinds of cancer. Keep in mind, however, that the total package of phytonutrients in tomatoes appear to be more powerful than lycopene alone. In other words, tomatoes are better for you than lycopene pills. Taste better, too!

Simply sliced and sprinkled with salt, fresh tomatoes make for the simplest and most perfect of side dishes. But should you grow jaded, tomatoes can be enjoyed in myriad ways:

  • Chopped fresh basil is traditional on sliced tomatoes, but try a little pesto spooned over them. (No one will tell if you cheat and use jarred pesto.)
  • Add sliced mozzarella to your tomatoes and pesto, for a super-simple Caprese salad. Don’t use the cheap mozzarella sold for pizzas. Spring for the good stuff at the fancy-cheese counter. You can also toss halved cherry or grape tomatoes with cubed mozzarella and pesto. A few capers are nice with this, but if you don’t have any in the house, don’t sweat it. There’s too much sweating going on already. This salad makes a great light, cool meal.
  • To use not only tomatoes, but also cucumbers and peppers, which are also at the peak of their season, try Shepherd’s Salad, a Turkish favorite. Combine 2 diced tomatoes, 2 seeded and diced cucumbers, 2 or 3 diced green peppers, and a small red onion, cut thinly in rings. (You could substitute sliced scallions.) Add a half a cup of finely chopped parsley or fresh mint, and a half a dozen radishes, sliced, if you’re fond of them. Now whisk together 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Toss with the salad, salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Feta is good in this if you want to add some protein. Indeed, with feta this salad makes a nice, cool, light summer lunch.
  • Cut the cores out of middle-sized tomatoes. Cut them in eight wedges, leaving the skin intact at the bottom. Now open them up into tomato flowers. Pile high with tuna, chicken, or egg salad, or cottage cheese mixed with sliced green onions. Looks pretty, tastes great, and adds nutrition. Can’t beat that!
  • Or stuff your tomato flowers with guacamole, and serve as a side salad. “Guacamatoes” are great with a grilled steak.
  • Pico de Gallo is a fresh Mexican salsa or relish that goes well with all kinds of things.

Pico de Gallo

  • 1 California avocado – peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 1 medium jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 cup minced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced cilantro
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
  • salt to taste

Just cut up everything and toss it together. Serve with anything Mexican or Southwestern.

Note: Wash your hands very well with plenty of soap and water after handling that jalapeno, or you’ll be sorry the next time you touch your eyes, nose, or lips!

8 servings, each with: 47 Calories; 4g Fat; 1g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber

(Reprinted by permission from The Every Calorie Counts Cookbook by Dana Carpender, © 2006 Fair Winds Press)

© 2009 by Dana Carpender. Used by kind permission of the author (who is quite a tomato I must say). What do you think? Please send Dana your comments to Dana Carpender.

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