Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fried Green Tomatoes

If you're lucky enough to have tomato plants at home, and people seem to really love growing tomatoes pretty much everywhere I've been, you are now in the era of patience. In our greenhouse, we have so many tomato plants they are creating their own microclimate! I started buying tomatoes back in February, I was so excited about summer even though it was still months away. And now the vines are filled with fruit, staked and tied and growing taller by the day. But the fruit is green! Tomatoes love to ripen at the hottest time towards the end of summer, and in Northern California that means August, September, even October. 
So if you're hella impatient like we are, and you feel like a special treat worthy of the old South, slice, dredge and fry up those green tomatoes. Truth be told I broke a tall, unwieldy tomato plant in half as I was tying the vines and there were numerous green tomatoes that were snapped away from their ripe destiny. After cursing to the heavens and apologizing to theplant, I realized the potential that lay before me: I was practically being begged to make Fried Green Tomatoes! 
When I was a kid I thought I hated all tomatoes, and the idea of a Fried Green Tomato took something ordinarily gross and turned it into a weird, even grosser thing that made no sense to me at all. Growing up in San Jose, my parents waited for the tomatoes on the vine to ripen and then made ratatouille or salsa. The Southern peculiarity of this dish seemed foreign to me until I tried to make them myself. While the impatient method is one way to get green tomatoes, there is also a moment in the Fall when you realize the green tomatoes still holding on to your vines will never ripen because summer is over. One year in Brooklyn, I had whole plants bursting with green tomatoes, and it started to snow. That was when I ended up with baskets of green tomatoes and I realized how magical this dish really is. The flavor of green tomatoes is far more subtle than their ripe cousins; it reminds me of earth and the smell of fuzzy green tomato leaves. The have almost no sweetness at all and a firm, crunchy texture when raw. But when soaked in vegan buttermilk, dredged in cornmeal and fried in oil, they are crazy delicious... crispy on the outside, soft and fleshy on the inside. It makes me worry that my impatience may take several more lives in the greenhouse!

Fried Green Tomatoes
This gluten-free recipe uses a blend of cornmeal and white rice flour for the dredging mixture. All-purpose flour can easily be substituted for the rice flour if that's all you have.

2 green tomatoes, sliced into 1/4" thick rounds
1/2 cup vegan milk of your choice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons white rice flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons high heat oil, like safflower, for frying

Make buttermilk: Whisk in vinegar to milk in a bowl and set aside to curdle while you slice the tomatoes. Immerse tomato slices in buttermilk, and then mix together all dry ingredients for the dredging mixture. If you don't have Old Bay, no big deal. It is pretty much a blend of celery salt, cayenne, garlic and oregano. Add some or all of those spices instead. Pretty much everyone has their own variation on this recipe if you head to ye Old South.
Heat oil in cast-iron skillet or non-stick pan to medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, take green tomato slices out of buttermilk and drip off excess liquid. Press each side into the cornmeal mixture, and then fry each side about 2-3 minutes, until lightly browned.
Drain on paper towels to absorb oil. These should be eaten right away, but if you need to serve them later, keep them in a single layer (stacking will make them soft) and then place them in a 400-degree oven for 4 or 5 minutes to crisp up before serving. Sprinkle the top with smoked paprika and serve with dipping sauce... I like vegan mayo with a splash of hot sauce.

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