5 ways to enjoy tomatoes
By Rosie Schwartz, RD
It is finally that time of year when we can start to enjoy the pleasure of homegrown tomatoes. But these summer favourites are not just a tasty treat—they are also packed with nutrients. Thankfully, we have gotten past the late 18th century, when tomatoes were wrongly feared as poisonous because they are a member of the nightshade family (other members include eggplants and potatoes).
In fact, tomatoes are packed with vitamins A, C, and E; folate; and potassium, fibre, and phytochemicals (disease-fighting compounds found in plant foods) such as lycopene, lutein, and isoprenoids, which are now at the centre of much research. Lycopene (the pigment that gives red tomatoes their colour) is also an antioxidant, which protects cells against damage and may protect you against a variety of diseases, including heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers. And tomatoes’ healthful qualities come in a rainbow of colours besides red thanks to the availability of heirloom tomatoes (where the seeds have been passed down through the generations) as well as newer varieties. If you like tomatoes with a purple hue, for example, that colour comes from pigments called anthocyanins, which are also antioxidants.
Tomatoes are healthy in other ways: For example, the gel around the seeds contains substances that may help to decrease the risk of developing blood clots, which may lead to heart attacks and strokes. They also provide potassium—the mineral that gives bananas their reputation as a smart choice for regulating blood pressure.
Research in people with type 2 diabetes—who are at high risk of developing heart disease—found that eating tomatoes on a daily basis resulted in lower blood pressure readings as well as favourable effects on levels of “good” HDL-cholesterol in the blood. Other studies show that tomatoes provide these same benefits for people who do not have diabetes. And tomatoes do not have a high carbohydrate count, making them a great choice for people living with diabetes, says Joanne Lewis, diabetes education manager for the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA).
For Your Eating Pleasure
Now that you know why tomatoes are so good for you, here are five different ways to enjoy them.
Raw There is nothing quite like a sliced summer tomato. Lewis loves hers in a Caprese salad with grape tomatoes, mini bocconcini, some olive oil, and basil.
Grilled Thicker slices can be cooked right on the grill for a few minutes for a more intense flavour. Cherry tomatoes are delicious on skewers, either with a combination of other vegetables plus meat, chicken, or fish, or on their own.
Oven dried If you have a lot of tomatoes from your garden or from a farmers’ market, oven dry them. This method is also a good way to enjoy winter tomatoes. (See the Linguine With Oven-Dried Tomatoes and Roasted Garlic recipe). Not only is the flavour intensified, but the lycopene is better absorbed when tomatoes are either cooked or canned.
Canned Whether homemade or store-bought, “canned tomatoes are a quick go-to if you want to make a healthy sauce,” Lewis says. But if you are buying from stores, “look for low-sodium or no-added-salt products to avoid high sodium.”
Soups Raw or cooked tomatoes can add body and taste to soups without adding significant amounts of carbohydrates that can affect your blood glucose (sugar).
Here are three delicious ways to include tomatoes on our menu. They are easy enough for every day but are also tasty offerings for entertaining.
Linguine with Oven-Dried Tomatoes and Roasted Garlic
Roasting tomatoes in the oven provides an intense hit of flavour and boosts lycopene absorption, especially when combined with extra virgin olive oil. You can use this preparation to oven dry any type of tomato and use tomatoes that are not very flavourful. Shorten cooking times if the tomatoes are small.
2 lb. (1 kg) plum tomatoes
3 tbsp (45 mL) extra virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic
¾ lb. (375 g) linguine, preferably whole wheat
2 oz. (50 g) fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
2 tbsp (25 mL) chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp (25 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 325°F/160°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut tomatoes into wedges (quarters for small tomatoes and sixths for larger ones) and place on the baking sheet, skin side down. Drizzle 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil over tomatoes, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Bake for 1½ to 2 hours, or until tomatoes are slightly dried but still soft to touch. Do not over dry.
To prepare garlic, cut ¼ inch (0.5 cm) off the top of the cloves. Drizzle with 1 tsp (5 mL) olive oil and wrap in double-thickness aluminum foil. Place in oven alongside tomatoes and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Squeeze roasted garlic into a small bowl. Using a fork, mash it together with 2 tsp (10 mL) olive oil.
Remove tomatoes from oven and allow to cool; cut into ½-inch (1 cm) pieces. Set aside.
Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.
In a large skillet, over medium heat, add garlic-oil mixture; add dried tomatoes and toss to coat. Heat until mixture is warmed through. Add cooked linguine and toss. Remove from heat. Add mozzarella and basil, being careful to distribute pieces evenly. Drizzle remaining 1 tbsp (15 mL) of olive oil over pasta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with Parmesan.
Makes 6 servings
Nutritional breakdown per serving 47 g carbohydrate, 12 g protein, 11 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 9 g fibre, 166 mg sodium, 329 calories
© Rosie Schwartz
Gazpacho originated in the region of Andalusia, in southern Spain. During the summer, I always keep some of this refreshing soup in my refrigerator, to snack on but also to serve at meals. This dish is served cold, making it the perfect thing for a hot summer's day.
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, cut into eighths
1/3 cup (75 mL) chopped cilantro
¼ cup (50 mL) chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 tbsp (25 mL) extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp (45 mL) red wine vinegar, or to taste
4 large ripe, red tomatoes (about 1 kg/2 lb.), cut into eighths
2 red peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into eighths
1 English cucumber, cut into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place garlic, onion, ¼ cup (50 mL) cilantro, 3 tbsp (45 mL) parsley, the olive oil, vinegar, and half of the tomatoes, red peppers, and cucumber in a food processor; process to a smooth purée. Place in a large bowl. Process remaining tomatoes, red peppers, and cucumber until smooth. Add to bowl and mix together. Season with salt, pepper, and more vinegar, if desired, to taste.
Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight. Serve garnished with remaining cilantro and parsley.
Makes 6 servings
Nutritional breakdown per serving 12 g carbohydrate, 2 g protein, 5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 3 g fibre, 220 mg sodium, 97 calories
© Rosie Schwartz
Middle Eastern food has become extremely popular lately. Here is an Israeli specialty, similar to huevos rancheros, that makes eggs irresistible. It is an adaptation from chef Moshe Basson of Eucalyptus Restaurant in Jerusalem.
2 tsp (10 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1 cup (250 mL) chopped onion
1 red pepper, diced
2 cups (500 mL) diced plum tomatoes (about 500 g/1 lb.)
¼ tsp (1 mL) ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat; add onion and sauté for 5 minutes or until soft. Add red pepper and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cumin; stir to mix. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Crack eggs onto mixture, spacing them evenly in the mixture, and continue to cook, covered, until eggs are set, or for about 4 minutes. Serve immediately.
Makes 2 servings
Nutritional breakdown per serving: 263 g carbohydrate, 13 g protein, 12 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 4 g fibre, 180 mg sodium, 263 calories
Did You Know?
While fruits and vegetables offer an abundance of good-for-you compounds, some are better for your diabetes diet than others. For example, did you know that two cups of strawberries have less sugar than a whole mango?) Read more from 10 Things You Need to Know About Fruits and Vegetables now.