Jun 072013

image cherry tomato dip

Is it too early too talk about tomatoes?

They’re already so good and abundant in the markets. I still had quite a few left over from the kilo I bought in the shuk a few days before.  I was thinking of a dip or spread for basil bread that I was going to take to a little get-together later on. Like, a tomato pesto.

And there were all these sweet, plum cherry tomatoes on my counter. It was easy to imagine roasting, then blending them. Adding almonds to thicken the puree. Herbs, too, and naturally, olive oil. Yes.

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May 282010


So I took a bus out to the shuk yesterday, in the middle of a sandstorm. It was eerie. A thin fog of yellow dust hovered everywhere, clinging to the skin and the lips, blurring the outlines of trees  in the middle distance, almost erasing distant buildings.  Now I know how African dust tastes, because this blew in from the Sahara. The radio broadcast warnings: pregnant women, small children, and asthmatics, stay home today.

Well, I’m none of those. And I needed to buy food. So off I went into the yellow distance, intent on tomatoes for slow roasting,  leafy greens, and ground turkey.

Of course I bought the shuk out.

Who can walk past a display of fresh, purple figs and refrain from buying a box? Not I. Who can resist the allure of glistening fish, red of gill and bright-eyed, on their beds of ice? Or of firm, plump mushrooms?


Oh woe, not I. Even the humble cauliflower seemed to be calling my name.


And everything so much cheaper than at my neighborhood supermarket.

So I bought, and bought, and soon had five or six bags dangling from my fingers. But one thing I was longing for wasn’t to be found. The herb vendors gave me funny looks when I asked if by chance they had grape leaves.


I’d seen them in the Shuk HaCarmel, I explained. Oh, that’s a different clientele, they said.

I was sad. Those mushrooms cooked in grape leaves were so good, I’d had the taste in my mouth all week. I already had the mushrooms, all I needed was some grape leaves.

I was also already out of money. Just as well, I said to myself. If I had more money, I’d keep buying. Now for the trip home with all these bags.

Just on the edge of the shuk, a few old people sit on the sidewalk and sell produce from their own gardens. It’s always worth casting an eye on what they have. Usually it’s just bunches of green onions or spinach – one of them used to sell gat but I think he’s been, er,  discouraged to do so by the authorities. I shlepped past, in a hurry for the bus.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I sighted grape leaves.

A little old lady with glasses like bottle bottoms and a long braid down her back was sitting patiently on a stool, bundles of grape leaves on her lap.

Oh, help. And me out of cash. I stopped in front of her, disentangled myself from my bags, and asked the price. NIS 5 for a smallish bundle. All right. Maybe I can dig 5 shekels out of my purse somewhere. You know how it is with purses – they tend to trap little coins in their corners. If you’re persistent, you can usually excavate a few out.

I found 15 shekels. Oh, joy! The lady handed over three bundles, which turned out to be a fair amount because grape leaves are so thin. And I went home to cook my mushrooms and photograph my purchases for you.

What would you make from these ingredients? You know those TV cooking shows where chefs have to produce a meal out of a few dissimilar ingredients – in ten minutes? Tell me what you would make – it doesn’t have to cook in ten minutes.

From left to right, top row: Ground turkey and fillet of chicken breast. On top, coriander. Tomatoes, figs, Swiss chard.

Middle row: champignon mushrooms, grape leaves, bass fish.

Bottom row: Portobello mushrooms, pine nuts, basil, and in the corner, sliced dark Russian bread.

I’ll tell you one of the things I did make, and that was mushrooms baked in grape leaves.


Recipe follows, next post.

Nov 022008

Last week in Tel Aviv, two international journalists and bloggers gave an excellent talk on the impact of bloggers on today’s media. The speakers were Lisa Goldman and Alison Kaplan Sommer, who is the Middle East editor at Pyjamas Media. We were all very stimulated, asking lots of questions.  Towards the end of the conference, a lady raised her hand and asked Lisa,

“How do I know that people will read my blog?”

“If you write well, people will notice your blog and read it,” Lisa said. “Unless you’re writing about…tomatoes, or something.” Then her eyes widened in embarrassment, remembering that a food blogger was present.

“No one can argue with my slow-roasted tomatoes,” I said, smiling. Lisa is cool; I knew she hadn’t meant to knock anyone.

“We’ll talk about my stuffed tomatoes, sometime,” said Lisa, showing she was with me. Folks laughed, and the moment passed.

But the next day, cooking for Shabbat, I pondered. Beside the breaking news and high-powered politics, tomatoes did look…trivial. What, I asked myself gloomily, do tomatoes really matter – in the larger frame?

Some people hate tomatoes. Others don’t think about tomatoes at all unless their price goes up. Then you get an earful while you’re standing by the vegetables at the supermarket. Shoppers critically turn each tomato over and kvetch out loud about the high price and low quality. Middle-aged ladies do this the best.

Yet tomatoes seem to the most-consumed vegetable in the Israeli diet. I myself have blogged about a batch of slow-roasted tomatoes that turned into tomato coins. Would falafel look anywhere near as appetising without the red accent of chopped tomatoes? And how about shakshoukah, eh? Not to mention spaghetti sauce.

Consider how good tomatoes are for your health. Alison’s article discusses how eating tomatoes helps prevent cancer. Another article claims that the juicy red fruit lowers blood pressure. And if you like reading lab results, this abstract proves that eating lots of tomatoes raises good cholesterol.

Tomatoes are cultural. Andy Warhol’s iconic cans of tomato soup are part of everyone’s subconscious reaction to the words “pop art.” George Gershwin’s well-loved song lyrics, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” have a couple quarreling over how to pronounce tomato. Hey, here’s a whole list of songs about tomatoes. Cheering up, I recalled one of my favorite light-reading books: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. It has a recipe for those fried green tomatoes in the back, too. And it was made into a great movie.

Even better, get a look at the public tomato fights that go on in Bunyol and Valencia, Spain.

At mealtime, tomatoes star in countless dishes, both savory and sweet. Sweet? Yes, I have made tomato jam from yellow cherry tomatoes, and it was delicious. When summer is at its hottest and the piles of luscious tomatoes at the shuk are so tempting, I haul kilos of them home and make potfuls of garlic- and basil-laced spaghetti sauce. I’ve even made tomato wine. Ah, tomatoes…

I feel better now.

Tomatoes matter.

Not only to me, but to lots of people.

Well, I’m getting hungry. Here’s a great, simple tomato recipe.

Tomatoes a la Creme serves 6

Take 6 tomatoes and cut them in half. Pierce the sides of the tomatoes with a knife in two or three places.

Melt some butter in a frying pan, and in the melted butter, put the tomatoes, cut side down. Keep the flame low, and let the tomato halves cook for 5 minutes.

Turn them over and cook a further 5 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Agitate the pan now and then to keep them from sticking.

Turn the tomatoes over again, and allow to cook a few minutes more.

Turn them over for the last time, and season again, lightly.

The tomatoes should have released much of their juices at this point. Pour in 3 oz. of cream, and only allow it to heat through before serving the tomatoes, very hot.

Please resist the urge to dress this dish up with shallots, basil, mushrooms, breadcrumbs, or anything else. This dish is meant to bring you the full, delicious flavor of the tomatoes, nothing else.

Aug 292008


Tomatoes are still cheap now. Firm Italian plum tomatoes, squat Romas, cherry tomatoes both red, yellow and green…take yer pick. I’ve made plenty of pasta sauce to keep handy; oven-dried a bunch too. But the piles of tomatoes in the markets are so tempting… So I decided to slow-roast some red cherry tomatoes at about 9:00 last night. Cut them in half – dusted salt, a tiny bit of crushed oregano, and just a little thyme over them – grated some black pepper over the pan – drizzled a thread of olive oil over all. Put them in a low oven with the door open a crack.

I should have put the timer on, because I promptly forgot all about them. Towards 1:00 in the morning, I woke up to a delicious smell floating through the apartment: my slow-roasted tomatoes had become dried tomatoes. Now I have little tomato coins. Good thing I caught them before they became tomato chips. Usually I don’t season oven-dried tomatoes, but these will be very good in pasta or rice dishes, or in salads.

Prices vary seasonally but tomatoes are available all year round. It’s in summer, though, that their flavor is full and sweet, and the flesh deep red. I’m glad I’m not allergic to them: the world would seem poor without tomatoes.

Tomato Coins


I now make perfect slow-roasted tomatoes several times over the summer with this alternate recipe.

1. Cut the tomatoes in half. Scoop out their seeds and the gel, leaving a thick shell of flesh.

2. Season each with plenty of salt, dustings of oregano, za’atar, and/or thyme, and a little pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.

3. Put the seasoned tomato halves, cut side up, on a baking pan that’s lined with baking paper.

4. Set the oven to 250° F, 120° C, and slide the tray in. Shut the oven door.

5. Roast the tomatoes for about 4 hours. They’re done when they’re cooked and limp, starting to get a little leathery at the bottom and at the edges, but still juicy inside. Like the photo on top.

  • They’re wonderful eaten hot out of the oven and slightly smeared over crackers. That’s how the Little One and I manage to eat most of them.
  • Also excellent on slices of bread toasted and rubbed with a cut clove of garlic.
  • Or chopped up and scattered over pesto-ed pasta.
  • Or with sauteéd onions and perhaps some bell pepper in an omelet.
  • Or chopped and mixed into bread or muffin dough.

Keep them in the fridge up to 2 weeks, but if you don’t think you’ll use them all up, freeze extras.

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