Tomatoes are awesome this year. They’re plump, juicy and bursting with flavor; no rot, no blights. YEAH! Tomatoes are such a satisfying thing to grow. Once you get the hang of it, your tomatoes will taste and feel infinitely better (and be infinitely cheaper) than what you can buy. As long as you stake them, you can grow tomatoes in the most minuscule of places – even on a fire escape in the heart of a city. Tomatoes, generally a vine crop, like to grow up, so you just need to give them a little support. You can grow cherry tomatoes in a pot, too.
We grow romas for sauce, cherry tomatoes to pop in your mouth and big beefsteak tomatoes that are wonderful just sliced and served with fresh basil, olive oil and salt. Of course when they come in, no matter how carefully you try to plan on quantity, there are usually too many. You’ve heard the expression feast or famine, right? I didn’t have quite enough to make a big batch of sauce or baked tomatoes, which I slow cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours until most of the liquid is evaporated. Then I can freeze them in sheets to use all winter when recipes call for cooked tomatoes. But I have too many for salad. And all my friends with gardens have their own wondrous, ruby tomatoes to process.
Bounty demands diligence and a creative spirit. Along with my tomatoes I had too much raw milk, which has a shorter shelf life than pasteurized milk. So out of love and necessity, these two recipes were born. Some people cook only with recipes, and some never do. I am halfway in the middle. I usually look through recipes, get an idea for technique, quantity, and flavor and then go my own way. Anjuli does this as well. For those out there who are die-hard recipe followers, I thought I’d embellish this process a bit. So here goes…
I started picturing my tomatoes cut in chunks. I have all this oregano I just dried, that’s oh so fragrant, which you saw in the last blog post. Earlier in the day I had skimmed Saveur’s (August/September, 2010) fabulous in-depth article entitled The Glories of Greece, which includes over 20 recipes and many factoids from all over Greece. Many of the recipes were coupling oregano with cinnamon, a combination which I happen to think is very exotic.
I looked around in the garden and noticed I had two Italian frying peppers ready to pick. I just harvested all my shallots last Friday. I made homemade cheese (paneer – see Matar Paneer for recipe) by boiling raw milk and adding lemon juice. I cut it into chunks and fried it. Now I could clearly imagine my tomatoes frying with rings of peppers and minced shallots. Then I could add whey and the fried paneer, cinnamon and oregano. I wanted to cut the acid a little from the cooked tomatoes – my dear husband’s tummy reacts to it sometimes – so I added raisins, Middle Eastern style. I could taste the whole recipe in my mind – it tasted good. So that’s what I did. And it was delicious.
I have been to Greece twice, once to Athens and then once to various islands. The sunlight in Greece was unlike any I’ve seen. Everything it touched became more luminous – the rocks, the sea, and all those white-washed houses. Of course that same sunlight grows the most intense and highly coveted of herbs. Life seemed uncomplicated; no frills, just strong, simple beauty. The food was of the freshest ingredients dug from rugged home gardens, the desserts were like clouds, and fish still blushed with life as it was nestled onto your plate. In my humble opinions, this luminous land of simple roots produces the freshest and most wonderful food in the world.
A garden simultaneously grounds you and allows you to travel to other lands without ever leaving home. When you pluck a few tomatoes off a vine, you have the opportunity to celebrate nature and also pay tribute to people far away who grow together and make food. The oregano and cinnamon coupled with the acid from the tomatoes, the creamy, fried paneer and sweetness of the raisins and shallots was exquisite.
Tomatoes, Frying Peppers, Raisins and Homemade Cheese Serves 6
paneer made from 3/4 gallon of whole milk (raw or not), split with juice from 2 – 2 1/2 lemons, cut into 1″ cubes (here’s our recipe), along with 3+ cups of reserved whey
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon salt
2 frying peppers, de-seeded and cut in 1/4″ moons
3 medium shallots, cut in 1/8″ rings
3 large tomatoes cut in 1 1/2″ chunks
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
2/3 cups raisins soaked in 1 1/2 cups whey
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
NOTE: I have asked you to reserve 3 cups of whey so you will have some for the next day, and a little to use for other purposes like soaking whole grain.
Heat a large frying pan to medium low. Add 2 tablespoons ghee and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the paneer cubes. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Fry until golden brown, approximately 4 minutes on a side. Resist the temptation to keep stirring the paneer or it won’t brown. Remove from pan and set aside on paper towels. Add 1 more tablespoon olive oil and the frying peppers and shallots. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until they start to soften, 5 minutes. Add the oregano, 1 1/2 cups of whey and raisins. Simmer 10 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and the cinnamon. Add the paneer. Put on lid. Turn to low. Cook 10 minutes and serve. This is a hearty dish because of the cheese. You could easily accompany it with the simplest of salads.
Chicken Tagine with Tomatoes, Frying Peppers, Raisins and Homemade Cheese Serves 2
I made enough of the tomatoes and paneer for 6, but we were only 2, so the next day I simply browned 4 chicken thighs and added them to the leftover tomato paneer dish and let it simmer for 20 minutes. It was an instant chicken tagine.
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground sage
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 chicken thighs, with bones and skin
3 cups of leftover Tomatoes, Frying Peppers, Raisins, and Homemade Cheese
1/2 cup whey
Wash the chicken and dry on paper towels. Put the flour, salt, sage and black pepper in a zip lock bag. Close. Shake until combined. Add the chicken. Close the bag. Shake until evenly covered. Heat a medium frying pan to medium low. Add olive oil. Add chicken. Fry 5 minutes on a side for 10 – 15 minutes until a nice medium brown. Remove the chicken. Drain any remaining oil from the pan. Add the chicken back to the pan and the leftover Tomatoes, Frying Peppers, Raisins and Homemade Cheese dish, covering the chicken. Add the whey. Simmer for 20 minutes. Serve.