Heirloom tomatoes, on prominent display at our local supermarkets or farmer’s markets, stand out with their awkward shapes and unusual colors looking more like produce defects rather than treasures that generations have coveted and passed down through the years. I’ve often wondered if the name ‘heirloom’ was just another salient term that permits the grocer to charge more or for a waiter to use when pitching the appetizer as in, “we’re offering an heirloom tomato tower that begins with razor thin heirloom slices that are interlaced with buffalo mozzarella cream and finished with a drizzle of chive oil that has been infused with leprechauns.”
But, heirloom tomatoes are special and worth the price and star billing. Heirlooms are grown from pure seeds that have been cultivated from season to season for hundreds of years. Unlike hybrid produce from the supermarket which has been altered to improve yield and production, heirloom tomatoes are the same today as they were when George Washington ate them with his wooden teeth. And studies have shown that heirlooms are also superior in nutrients to hybrid produce that seem to have been somewhat watered down throughout years of genetic transformations. Yet, all tomatoes, whether heirloom or hybrid, and any tomato products like sauces and ketchup, are rich with vitamins and anantioxidant that is lycopene, which offers proven protective qualities against a growing number of cancers. And, organic tomatoes provide three times more lycopene than the others. The bottom line is that all tomatoes are steeped in nutritional value, but organic heirloom tomatoes are ahead of the peck.
Heirloom tomatoes are in late, late season right now, so crunchtime will be offering three different ways for using the fruits that are rich with heritage and nutrition (remember tomatoes are not vegetable, despite some references). We’re always mining for new ways to use heirlooms, so please add your ideas in the comments.
First up is tortilla soup. My heirlooms were about ready to take a bad turn, so soup seemed like an easy way to preserve them. I had a leftover ear of corn (save everything) from which I cut-off the kernels to add texture and flavor to the soup and I used the cob to flavor the cooking tomatoes. Corn makes the soup sweeter and complex so omit it if you want a simpler flavor. And please note, corn is also not a vegetable, it is a starch. Broccoli – still a vegetable.
Check back this week for our Heirloom Tomato Bloody Mary – more like a Sunny Mary.
Tortilla Strips (how-to)
Cut tortilla into long thin strips. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake in 325° oven for 10-15 minutes. Time will vary depending on the kind of tortilla you use, so check them at 10 minutes. I used a whole grain tortilla that doesn’t taste like cardboard when toasted.
tortilla soup with heirloom tomatoes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes (not all active)
3 large heirloom tomatoes, rough chopped (I removed seeds)
1/2 c onion chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped without seeds
1 ear leftover corn on the cob, kernels cut off, but save cob too (optional)
1 T olive oil
1 t cumin
1/2 t Frontera Grill chipotle hot sauce (a few drops of Tabasco instead will work)
1 c vegetable stock (chicken stock/broth okay)
s&p to taste
low-fat sour cream
tortilla strips (optional) or make your own, recipe below
Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and peppers and cook for 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, and cob (with corn removed) and cook over medium-low heat for 20 minutes.
Add vegetable broth, cumin, hot sauce and s&p and heat.
Remove from heat and pour or ladle into a blender. Blend to a smooth consistency. Add corn kernels, taste, and adjust seasonings to your liking.
Garnish with cilantro, avocado, a sour cream.
Cook’s options: Omit the corn or use 1/2 c. frozen corn kernels. Garnish with ingredients you have on hand. I’m a cilantro lover, so it’s always in my refrigerator.
Cook’s tips: Season and taste as you go. Adjust to your liking.