When I was a kid, I would not eat tomatoes. I swore I hated them. Sure I would eat ketchup and tomato sauce, but not actual tomatoes. When I became vegan, everything changed. Suddenly, I learned to love lots of foods I wouldn’t eat before, and tomatoes were one of them. Currently, I eat tomatoes every single day in one form or another. They are one of the foods I cannot run out of or I feel lost and deprived. Summer is a great time for tomatoes. This is when they are at their best – deep red, juicy and intense in flavor. There are Beefsteaks, Roma Plums, Vine-Ripened, Grape, Cherry, Heirloom, and so many other types of tomatoes. Each has their own flavor and personality and each can be used in multiple ways.
If you grow tomatoes, you will probably be swamped with them by the end of summer. Maybe you are the lucky recipient of someone who has too many to use or maybe you are indulging in the bounty of the farmers market. However you come by your tomatoes, now is the perfect time to try new and exciting things with them. Of course you know you can use fresh tomatoes to make tomato sauce or salsa, and you know they taste great in salads and sandwiches. Well, here are 10 different ways to use all those beautiful summer tomatoes.
1. Make Homemade Bruschetta
Tomatoes can have no better friends than fruity olive oil, savory garlic and crispy bread. Bruschetta is a favorite appetizer or hors d’ouvres. I make a Garlic Tomato Bruschetta that is so good, that and a glass of white wine is all I need for dinner. Here’s how I make it: Preheat the broiler. Place thin slices of Italian, Ciabatta or French bread onto a baking sheet. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over them and broil for just 3-4 minutes until they are crispy and golden brown. Remove the bread from the oven and set them aside. In a skillet, heat a spoon of extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add 4 minced garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook for a minute until the garlic starts to soften. Add 1 pint of halved grape tomatoes and toss in the seasoned oil. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the tomatoes soften. Season with salt and pepper and spoon the tomatoes onto the toasted bread. Garnish with fresh parsley or basil and vegan grated parmesan. Make a lot. This is addictive. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
2. Make Soup – Raw or Cooked
Gazpacho is a Spanish soup that is served cold. It’s also easy to make – just blend ripe tomatoes with any other produce you desire: onions, cucumber, bell peppers and even watermelon. Chill it and enjoy it. It couldn’t be easier. This Raw Tomato Red Pepper Soup combines meaty tomatoes, sweet bell pepper and spicy chipotle for a refreshing and beautiful soup. If you prefer your tomato soup hot, try this traditional Quick and Rich Tomato Soup or this creamy Tomato Coconut Soup.
3. Make Stuffed Tomatoes
Usually when we make stuffed dishes, we put tomatoes into the vegetable we are stuffing but how about stuffing the tomatoes themselves? All you have to do is hollow out the tomatoes and replace the pulp with your favorite fillings. Toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes, and then stuff them with your favorite spread or vegan cheese. Broil them until the cheese melts and the tomatoes soften, about 2 minutes. Garnish with fresh herbs and impress your guests with this beautiful appetizer.
Larger tomatoes can be stuffed to make a healthy and delicious entrée or side dish. I hollow out large beefsteak tomatoes and stuff them with a mixture of sauteed mushrooms, spinach, quinoa and the pulp from the tomatoes. Place them in a baking dish, sprinkle a few bread crumbs atop each one and bake for 30 minutes. For a lighter dish, stuff the tomatoes with your favorite summer salads like this Chickpea Waldorf Salad or this Tempeh “Tuna” Salad. It’s refreshing and you get to eat the plate!
4. Make Your Own Dried Tomatoes
I love sun-dried tomatoes. They add a tangy flavor to dishes and make a great snack too. You can buy sun-dried tomatoes in the store but why not make your own? Whether you use a dehydrator, your oven or the sun, it’s easy to dry foods yourself. To make your own oven-dried tomatoes, halve ripe tomatoes lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and toss the tomatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper. Set your oven on its lowest temperature (150 degrees) and let the tomatoes cook for eight hours or until they have shrunken. Then use your self-dried tomatoes to make Raw Lasagna with Cilantro Pesto, Sundried Tomatoes and Marinated Veggies, Quinoa with Secret Pesto and Sun-Dried Tomatoes and this beautiful Sun-dried Tomato Tart with Zucchini Hummus.
5. Make Fried Green Tomatoes
Red tomatoes shouldn’t have all the fun; green ones deserve love too. Unripe green tomatoes are the star of the southern dish, Fried Green Tomatoes. Because they are unripe, green tomatoes are firmer with less moisture which means they hold up to frying better. You could fry red tomatoes but if they are juicy, it could get messy. Simply slice the tomatoes, bread them and fry them. Try these Fried Green Beer Tomatoes which are coated with cornmeal and dark beer or my Cajun-flavored Fried Green Tomatoes with Red Pepper Aioli.
6. Make Roasted Tomatoes
Tomatoes are sweet but when you roast them, they get this intense, rich flavor that is savory and succulent. Roasted tomatoes are delicious on their own as a side dish or used in other recipes. Just place halved tomatoes on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and drizzle them with olive oil, salt and your favorite herbs and spices. You can roast them fast in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes or slowly in a 250 degree oven for a couple of hours until they are collapsed and softened. Then enjoy them in dishes like this bowl of Miso Roasted Tomatoes with Spiralized Carrot Noodles and these Grilled Avocados with Roasted Tomatoes.
7. Make Pickled Tomatoes
Pickled and fermented foods are delicious with their unique tang and saltiness. We eat pickled cabbage as sauerkraut, pickled onions, carrots and other veggies as kimchi and pickled cucumbers as…well, pickles. So why not pickle tomatoes? It’s easy, they can last a long time, and you can eat them on sandwiches or in salads or on their own. To make pickled tomatoes: cook your favorite spices such as garlic, red pepper flakes, ginger, cumin or mustard seeds in some olive oil for just a minute or two to deepen their flavors. Add one cup of your favorite vinegar and ¼ cup sugar to the saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. This is the brine. Add some salt and let the mixture cool. Take a sterilized jar and fill it with peeled, ripe tomatoes cut into wedges or whatever shape you desire. Pour the brine over the tomatoes. Be sure to leave about ½ inch of room at the top. Cover and refrigerate for several hours. The longer you let the tomatoes pickle in the brine, the better they will be.
8. Make Homemade Chile Sauce
Chile sauce is amazing. It’s rich, sweet, spicy and tangy all at the same time. It’s used in lots of recipes, especially Asian ones. You can buy bottles of chile sauce but some have ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup and others can be expensive. When I ran out of chile sauce in the middle of making a recipe, I couldn’t substitute anything else so I learned to make my own. It was much simpler than I thought it would be and now I always make it myself.
Let me share my recipe with you: Combine 2 cups of fresh, pureed tomatoes (plums have the best flavor), ¼ cup tomato paste, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup brown sugar, 2 chopped jalapeno peppers, 1 tsp. each garlic powder and chile powder, ½ tsp. each dry mustard powder and onion powder, a pinch of allspice, and 2 Tbs. vegan Worcestershire sauce in a food processor. If you don’t have vegan Worcestershire sauce, you can use 1 Tbs. each tamari and balsamic vinegar. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes if you want extra heat. Process until smooth and taste for any seasoning adjustments. Keep in a jar in the fridge and use it in recipes such as Braised Seitan Short Ribs in Spicy Chile Sauce, Mississippi Comeback Sauce and Sesame Tofu.
9. Make Tomato Desserts
Yes, desserts. We use spinach, avocado, and zucchini in desserts so why not tomatoes? After all, tomatoes are a fruit and with more recipes mixing sweet and savory tastes, tomatoes are a perfect ingredient for desserts. The next time you go to make your own ice cream or sorbet, consider giving tomatoes a try by either adding one or two to the recipe or going totally tomato-flavored. Add some little tomato wedges to fruit cocktail or these Raw Fruit Tartlets. Their gentle flavor mingles well with strawberries, watermelon, pineapple, mango, pears, melon and berries. Garnish your tomato dessert with fresh mint or basil leaves.
10. Freeze Your Tomatoes
Even though you can buy tomatoes year round, they are only in season for a short time. Or perhaps, you grew so many tomatoes, you can’t possibly use them all, no matter how many tomato ideas and recipes I give you. Well, the good news is that you can freeze tomatoes so you can enjoy them all year long. Tomatoes can be frozen with their skins or peeled, raw or cooked, whole, chopped, sliced or pureed. If you make tomato soup or sauce, you can also freeze the prepared foods.
To freeze tomatoes, select ones that are ripe and firm. Wash them gently and blot them dry. Prepare the tomatoes by cutting them into the desired shape and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet that will fit in your freezer. After they are frozen, transfer the tomatoes to freezer bags or sealed storage containers. When you need them, just thaw them out and use them in any cooked recipe (thawed tomatoes will be too mushy to eat like you would a fresh tomato). Frozen tomatoes can last up to 8 months so you can be enjoying summer tomatoes in the middle of a winter snowstorm.
There is no food more versatile than the tomato. Sweet or savory, raw or cooked, alone or as part of a recipe, tomatoes are nature’s candy. I hope you have fun trying these ways of using your summer tomato bounty and if you have any bushels leftover, send them my way.
Lead Image Source: Sun-dried Tomato Tart with Zucchini Hummus