"What are those giant grey balls in a jar?" asks my good friend PJ of Mr Scheckter at On Trays Food Emporium on Saturday.
"Giant grey balls?" asks Mr Scheck, puzzled, rushing around from behind the counter, as though there has just been some sort of accident in the store.
"Ah," he says; "green tomatoes." Mystery solved. Thank goodness.
Green tomatoes. In a great big jar. I had some green tomatoes at Depot in Auckland last week - they were tangy, sweety-sour, and tasted a little bit like marmalade, in a good way. Fried Green Tomatoes is also the name of a feel-good film that I will never see - I think of it as a kind of Driving Miss Daisy kinda thing, though I'm probably way off.
Anyway, fried green tomatoes - I'm into it. I really need to give this a try. I buy the jar - it's huge, and is less than ten bucks - bargain. We also get a loaf of superb Le Moulin baguette, a chunk of delicious cumin-inflected gouda, and Mr Scheck furnishes me with some slices of a delectable new product he is stocking - a tuna ham.
I seek the wise counsel of Mrs Scheck as to how I am going to prepare the green tomatoes - she suggests making a salsa, or crumbing and frying slices of tomato.
Lately I haven't been much for crumbing stuff - I mostly just roll fish, or haloumi, or chicken or whatever in flour and fry it in oil with a little butter. So I decide this is also the best plan of attack for the tomatoes.
They fry up pretty well - a nicely caramelised crust, a twist of pepper and a pinch of salt the only seasoning they need. I ask PJ whether he thinks his three-year-old daughter will be into them; he's not sure, but reckons she'll give them a go - she is a very good eater.
We lay out an almost embarrassingly "rustic" spread on a wooden board, and start assembling. The tomatoes taste fantastic - they would be a perfectly agreeable replacement for either some form of protein, or fried cheese, such as haloumi - vegans, take note. PJ also knocks up a "rustic", breadless canapé of sorts, with the fried tomato serving as the vessel for a little cheese and coriander leaf.
It is an interesting ingredient - they give you the body and volume of a bit of protein, but they also have that nice briny, pickle-y quality. They may well be my find of the year. I also try them with the tuna ham, and the combination is bang on - the acid of the tomato cutting pleasingly through the salty, fishy tuna. And both are good with a squeeze of lemon.
The three-year-old rips into the fried tomatoes with relish (bad pun), and I have to slice and fry some more - good stuff. I am always impressed when kids are open to eating new foods - I reckon it means they are well on their way to omnivorous enlightenment.
I've still got a heap of the suckers left - I will have to fry some up for Plus One, and for PJ's other half LVH. I am also going to have a go at making some sort of green mole - the tangy, spicy sauce that accompanies some of my favourite Mexican dishes. I am also thinking I will make a kind of salsa verde, replacing the gherkins with the tomatoes. I reckon this is what it's all about with a new, alien foodstuff - finding ways that you can use it in a context of something you already know that won't be too weird (not, say, like when I tried to make the good ol' Kiwi dip with Greek yoghurt...)
Fried green tomatoes - more than just a film I will never see. They're delicious, and I would probably never have cooked with them if my friend hadn't asked "What are those giant grey balls in a jar?"
Fried green tomatoes - ever had them? Good, eh?! What else do you reckon I can do with the rest of them? And ever seen the film - doubt it'd be my bag, eh?
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