Monday, August 31, 2009

Fruit of the (heir)Loom

I love tomatoes. This summer my love of tomatoes has turned into a near obsession (compared to last summer, when I had a weird acidic-mouth-burning-reaction every time I ate them, which severely limited my tomato intake). I can’t get enough of them. Sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Dolluped with mayo. Drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh basil. Sandwiched and dripping between two chewy slices of rustic bread. On a bagel with cottage cheese. In a salad with chunks of mozzarella and cubes of garlicky French bread. If it has tomato in it, I want it in my mouth.

Unfortunately, delicious tomatoes in Seattle are hard to come by. I grew up eating fresh, juicy, flavorful, sun-soaked, homegrown tomatoes straight out of the garden. Store bought tomatoes are, by comparison, like eating cardboard. Of course I could go to the farmers’ market, but this summer has proven far too busy for leisurely Sunday strolls through the market. Yeah, I could join a CSA, but I was unemployed for 2 months right at the beginning of the summer share, and couldn’t fork out the necessary dough for a bounty of fresh summer produce. I mean, sure, I could buy sweet, hearty heirloom tomatoes, but at $7.99 a pound (no joke)… in Mel’s words, that’s highway robbery. So, aside from the garden tomatoes Mel and John have given me the few times I’ve seen them this summer, I’ve been reduced to eating vegetable flavored cardboard.

But wait…vegetable flavored? Aren’t tomatoes fruit!? Yes! They are! Store bought tomatoes in Seattle, however, are so flavorless that fruit is ashamed to claim them, making the tomato one very confused vine-dweller. It isn’t until you bite into a juicy, sweet, homegrown or heirloom tomato that you realize why they call it a fruit. Recently, I was having good-tomato withdrawal, and decided to take advantage of a “sale” on heirlooms ($4.99/lb), and put the tomato-as-a-fruit conundrum to the test.

Using heirloom tomatoes and that other fruit-that’s-confused-as-a-vegetable, avocados, I made a delicious summery fruit salad—one where tomatoes can truly call themselves fruit, without the ridicule and torment of their adversaries.

With the tart-sweet bite of the stone fruits, the acidic tang of the grapefruit and orange, the deep sugary richness of the cherries, and the sweet but not-too-sweet flavor of the tomatoes and avocados, fruits and vegetables-come-fruits melded together to create a perfect union. I ate this salad immediately after tossing, a few hours later, and the next day, and it was fantastic every time.

Tomato and Avocado Fruit Salad
(Serves 2 as a full meal, 4-6 as a side)

2 large nectarines
1 large pink grapefruit (remove peel and seeds)
2 large heirloom tomatoes, any variety
1 large avocado
1 ½ cup of pitted, halved cherries (use a dark, sweet variety, like bing)
1 large navel orange (remove peel and seeds)
1-2 plums

Cut fruit into large chunks, and toss together with their juices. Enjoy salad on its own, topped with yogurt (honey flavored Greek, if you can find it), or, as I did the next day, on a whole wheat bagel with a schmear of cream cheese and a drizzle honey.

Watch out apples… tomatoes might just be the new ‘it’ fruit!
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