Summer's Bounty: Tomatoes

There's nothing quite like the taste of a ripe, juicy tomato. But if taste alone isn’t enough for you, consider this: Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant vitamin C and in lycopene, a powerful carotenoid that may help lower your risk of heart disease and certain forms of cancer. Furthermore, tomatoes are versatile and can be enjoyed with any meal, from breakfast omelets to dinner salads. Here's how to get the most from this fabulous best-in-summer vegetable, which you can enjoy on all Phases of the South Beach Diet.

Buying and Storing Tomatoes
Tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes. At your local supermarket or farmers’ market, you may find plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, and a number of other types. The most flavorful tomatoes are those that are bought locally and in season (late summer to early fall). Those sold year-round in supermarkets typically come from either California or Florida. When buying, look for tomatoes that are deep red in color with no cracks or bruises.

Tomatoes are best stored outside the refrigerator. Unripe tomatoes can be placed in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana to speed up the ripening process. The ethylene gas given off by the apple or banana will hasten the ripening process. Once ripened, tomatoes will keep for up to two days at room temperature. After that, you can store them in a warmer part of the refrigerator (like the hydrator). Allow them to return to room temperature before eating to enjoy their full flavor.

Delicious Ways to Enjoy Tomatoes
Gently wash tomatoes in cold water before eating, and then use them in just about every way imaginable. On Phase 1, you can slice them and eat them plain with fresh herbs of your choice or enjoy them with some grilled chicken or steak or with lean cold cuts. On Phase 2, make a tomato and basil sandwich on whole-grain bread or a whole-wheat pita. On any Phase, you can dice and toss tomatoes into lettuce salads or cook them on the grill or under the broiler. There’s no wrong way to prepare a tomato! Here are some other delicious ways to enjoy tomatoes:

  1. Homemade salsa. Delicious and healthy, a tomato-based salsa is a great topper for grilled chicken, meat, or fish on any Phase. On Phase 1 use it as a dip for veggies; on Phase 2 and beyond have it with toasted whole-wheat pita wedges. To make a delicious salsa: Combine diced tomatoes, minced scallions, minced garlic, chopped cilantro, fresh lime juice, a little salt, and freshly ground black pepper or minced jalapeño, if you like. Let sit briefly to combine flavors and serve chilled or at room temperature.

     

  2. Gazpacho. This chilled summer soup typically features chopped tomatoes and other vegetables. It’s perfect as a light starter to a lunch or dinner on a day that’s too hot to cook. Try making it in a blender or food processor, combining chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and garlic, ground cardamom and cumin, a little cayenne, and fresh lime juice. Add a dollop of low-fat or nonfat plain yogurt just before serving.

     

  3. Arugula, tomato, and feta cheese pizza. Instead of using bottled tomato sauce on your homemade pizza, create a “sauce” using fresh tomatoes! On Phase 2, put together a healthy pizza using whole-wheat tortillas topped with sliced plum tomatoes, reduced-fat feta cheese, minced garlic, fresh basil, and arugula. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the pizza on a grill topper and heat over medium-low on an outdoor grill.

     

  4. Poached eggs with cherry tomatoes. Prepare poached eggs and top with chopped red and/or yellow cherry tomatoes and scallions. Season with salt and pepper to taste or sprinkle with a little finely grated Parmesan.

     

  5. Stuffed plum tomatoes. For a savory side dish, cut plum tomatoes in half lengthwise and stuff with a mixture of shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated Parmesan cheese, minced garlic, and chopped fresh basil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

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