As the growing season slows, the primary complaint I hear is “but my tomatoes are still hard and green!” The lament is loudest in northwest Montana, where our growing season is about 90 days. Tomatoes need 50–100 days to mature, so it’s easy to see why so many green fruits remain on our vines as the first frost approaches. My solution, as I explained last week, is to let most remaining tomatoes ripen indoors. But I always set some green tomatoes aside to eat fresh.
What comes to mind when you think of eating a green tomato? For many, it’s a plate of breaded and fried slices. Although Fried Green Tomatoes aren’t as Southern as you might think, they are delicious, easy to make, and suitable just about any time of day. Your mind may also turn to a Mexican salsa verde. The traditional recipes—and to my palate, the tastiest versions—are made with tomatillos, but green tomatoes are suitable stand-ins.
Fried Green Tomatoes
salt to taste
1/4 cup polenta or coarsely ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons corn or white flour
pinch of garlic powder
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup sunflower oil
Cut the tomatoes into 1/4-inch slices, laying them on a large plate. Sprinkle generously with salt on both sides and let sit 30–60 minutes, until water beads on the upturned surface and collects on the plate. In a shallow bowl, toss together the polenta, cornmeal, flour, garlic powder, and pepper. Beat the egg and water together and pour them into a second shallow bowl.
Pat both sides of one tomato slice dry with a tea towel or paper towel. Dip the slice into the egg wash, dredge it in the seasoned cornmeal mixture until well coated, and set it on a large, dry plate. Repeat the process with each tomato slice, laying the coated slices on the plate in a single layer.
In a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the coated tomato slices in a single, uncrowded layer, frying them in batches if necessary. Pan fry for about 3 minutes, and then flip the slices over for another 2–3 minutes, until lightly golden on each side. Transfer to a paper towel on a dry plate to drain, and then keep warm until ready to serve. Serves 2.
Tips & Tricks
- Choose green tomatoes that are firm and unripened; soft ones or ripe green heirlooms won’t hold their shape in the hot oil. It’s fine to use firm green tomatoes with a pink blush in the center; tomatoes ripen from their core, and those that have just started to mature will be slightly sweet.
- The salting time is key to sealing the coating to the tomatoes. The salt draws out water, letting the egg wash penetrate the tomato flesh and holding the cornmeal to the tomato when it hits the hot oil.
- After one batch, I always find a bit of cornmeal in the pan—just enough to burn in batch 2. So I use a pan large enough to hold the full round. If you’re doubling the recipe and must fry in batches, use multiple pans and, if necessary, carefully wipe out any cornmeal residue between rounds.
- These fried tomato slices are delicious any time of day. I love them for breakfast, topped with basted eggs or served alongside fruit and with a dollop of Fresh Yogurt and drizzle of salsa, either grilled or fresh (see below). For lunch, layer them into a salad with greens, cucumber slices, and goat cheese medallions. At dinner, use them in sliders for vegetarians. And for a late-night snack, just sprinkle with smoked sea salt and squeeze on fresh lemon juice.
Twice as Tasty
I’ll admit it now: this is not my favorite green salsa. I prefer salsa verde made with tomatillos, and my favorite variation is grilled: partly because it is delicious, and partly because the grilling process easily releases tomatillo juice to turn into margarita mix.
But the key difference between tomatillo and green tomato salsa is more scientific. It’s about pH. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a tomatillo has a pH of 3.8, whereas a tomato has a pH of 4.3–4.9. In home canning, 4.6 is the magic number: fruits and vegetables with a pH higher than 4.6 are not acidic enough to be processed safely in a water bath and need to be either pickled or pressure canned. So recipes add a little acid—vinegar, lime juice, etc.—to tomatillo salsa for flavor and a lot more acid to green tomato salsa to preserve it safely.
That said, if you don’t grow tomatillos or are swimming in green tomatoes, jump on this salsa. Add the vinegar and lime juice to taste for fresh eating, but stick to the recommended ratios when running it through a boiling water bath.
Fresh Green Tomato Salsa
3 ounces yellow sweet onion (about 6 tablespoons when chopped)
3 ounces red bell pepper (about 1/3 cup when chopped)
1–2 serrano chilies
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons fresh cilantro
1/3 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (5% acidity)
juice and zest of 1/2 lime (about 2 teaspoons)
Chop the tomatoes, onion, and pepper; mince the chilies and garlic, and mix them together in a medium bowl. Mince the cilantro; add it and the cumin and salt to the bowl and toss until the vegetables are coated. Add the vinegar and lime juice and zest to taste. If you prefer a smoother salsa, puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor to your desired texture. Serve with tortilla chips or Fried Green Tomatoes; refrigerate any leftovers for up to a week. Makes about 2 cups.
Tips & Tricks
- When you’re eating this salsa fresh, you can add the vinegar and lime juice to match your preferred taste and texture. If the salsa is still too watery for your liking, cook it over medium-low heat for up to 15 minutes, until it thickens but before it sticks and burns.
- As I mentioned earlier, I grow tomatillos and grill them for tasty processed salsa verde and frozen margarita mix, so I don’t can a green tomato salsa. Still, the vinegar and lime ensure this salsa is safe to process in a boiling water bath. You’ll need to do some math to come up with the proper batch size. In addition, be sure to leave 1/2-inch headspace and process pint jars for 20 minutes, plus your altitude adjustment.
- Consider other uses for this salsa beyond chips and fried green tomato garnish. I use it to top halibut or sword fish and spread it into cheese quesadillas. For a quick yet filling vegan meal, combine equal parts salsa and black beans and stuff it into russet or sweet potatoes.
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