I am back in the kitchen this week, whisk in hand and apron neatly tied, ready to share a week’s worth of healthy, tasty, easy meals featuring some of my favorite summer produce!
It’s been a long, long hiatus from the days when I shared a new recipe each week. Despite this mini (or rather, HUGE) break, I’ve had the idea of repeating my apple recipe series last fall sitting on the back burner for months now. I knew that this would be the perfect way to celebrate my blogiversary.
It drove me nuts. Each time I went to the market and I looked at all the amazing produce, I realized what an impossible task this would be. Do I focus on berries? Tomatoes? Squash? All of the above?!?!
Once I took a moment to calm down, I reminded myself that this is summer; a time to chill and relax, which are two concepts I struggle with sometimes, truth be told. I tend to prefer the preciseness of baking and the complexities of large holiday menus.
My blogiversary was the perfect opportunity to come full circle here and pose a new culinary challenge: easy cooking.
Yes, easy. Chilled out, relaxed, no stress, take-your-time-there’s-no-rush cooking.
How could I resist?
So for day one of this new recipe series, I thought I’d start with one of the easiest meals I’ve ever thrown together. Unless you throw in the time I had a coconut Mamita for dinner during a recent heat wave because it was just too damn hot to actually cook anything. That was good.
For those of you who are new to my very awesome recipe sharing experience (yes, it’s awesome, I promise you), I like to break down a bit of nutrition info before we get into the nitty-gritty of cooking. Knowledge is power in my kitchen, and although I don’t like to get too hung up on the science, I think it’s fascinating and helpful to know what we’re putting in our bodies. Capisce? Good.
Today’s superstar ingredient is the heirloom tomato. I went to the farmer’s market this past weekend and was thrilled to see these gorgeous, sometimes gnarly tomatoes grace the tables. Just look at these guys!
The modern supermarket tomato is a product of mutation which often leaves the end product uniform in color, but pretty much lacking in taste and a lot of the nutritional value in the fruit. And before we go any further, let’s make this clear:
Tomatoes are fruit.
Got it? Good.
Heirloom tomatoes lack these mutations and feature fruit that come in all shapes, sizes, and most interestingly, colors. Most would agree that they’re richer in taste and provide more flavor dimension to the dishes they’re in, making heirlooms exciting additions to any recipe. Also, many of the seeds for heirlooms tend to be passed down from generation to generation, adding a wonderful cultural element to the growing of heirloom tomatoes by region.
There are dozens of varieties, all with unique characteristics. I will not feign to know what these are, but if you’re interested in learning more about what some of these varieties are, then check out this great guide by Cooking Light magazine.
As for nutrition, it’s hard to zero in on specific health benefits for each variety of heirloom, but tomatoes in general host a number of benefits that are enhanced by the more organic processes involved in growing heirlooms. Those organic processes have the added benefit of being environmentally friendly by preserving natural biodiversity and reducing harmful farming practices.
Some of these health benefits include:
- Lycopene, a carotenoid which contributes the bright coloration of tomatoes while also being a powerful antioxidant with potent cancer-fighting properties, especially prostate and breast cancer. Research also suggests that lycopene may reduce osteoporosis and that it’s an important factor in bone health. Note: Lycopene is fat-soluble, which means you should really eat tomatoes with a bit of oil or some other kind of fat to fully absorb the nutritional benefits.
- Vitamin C. Tomatoes are a rich source of this vitamin which has many benefits, most notably, its role in collagen production which contributes to faster and more effective wound healing. Many consider vitamin C to be a vital part in getting over symptoms of the common cold, and although research doesn’t necessarily support this idea, the antioxidant properties of this vitamin does help protect enzymes involved in immune function.
- Cardiovascular health. The various antioxidants and phytonutrients (lycopene included) in tomatoes are linked with lower levels of LDL (unhealthy fats) cholesterol, triglycerides, and overall cholesterol by regulating fat cells in the blood.
- Excellent source of vitamin A (30% DV), K (18% DV), potassium (12% DV), manganese (10% DV) and fiber (8% DV). At about 35 calories a serving, tomatoes offer a tremendous amount of bang for your buck!
Heirlooms peak in late summer, so now is the time to pick up as many varieties as possible before they disappear from the markets. Just be aware that heirlooms are fairly delicate and should be eaten within several days of purchase.
This salad is super easy, quick, and a delicious way to enjoy the heirlooms in all their glory with minimal fuss, which is also a perfect way to celebrate Meatless Mondays.
Makes 2 servings
1 small eggplant, sliced
2- 3 heirloom tomatoes (different varieties), sliced
Fresh mozzarella, sliced (about 6 small slices)
Handful baby spinach
Handful fresh basil
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
2 tsps balsamic glaze
Freshly ground sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsps Herbes de Provence
1. Rub EVOO on one side of the eggplant. Sprinkle herbes de Provence and salt on top. Heat grill pan and spray oil. Once hot place sliced eggplant with the oiled side facing down. Grill on low heat for about 3-5 minutes. Repeat on the other side.
2. Place a small bunch of spinach leaves on a serving plate. Stack the eggplant, tomatoes, cheese, and several basil leaves. Repeat for 2 or 3 layers or until the stack keeps its shape without toppling over.
3. Drizzle EVOO and balsamic glaze over the top. I thought about being really ambitious here and making my own balsamic glaze. And then I went to Trader Joe’s and realized I could let them do all the work for under $4 a bottle. Genius!
Grind sea salt and black pepper and garnish with ribbons of fresh basil.
And that’s it. You’re done. Easy huh? This salad was enough for dinner given the hearty nature of eggplants which I find really filling. But you can also serve this as a nice side or appetizer.
What are you waiting for? Get out there and grab some heirlooms while you still can! :-)
Did you know?
Seed lines for tomatoes are typically at least 50 years old to qualify as an heirloom. 50 is the new 20, especially for tomatoes.
STAY TUNED FOR MORE SUMMER KITCHEN FUN TOMORROW!!
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