By Cheryl Forberg, RD
The seductive scent of a plump, ripe tomato
beckons us to take a bite. Juicy tomatoes taste like summer, no adornment is required. From Kashmir to Guadalajara, tomatoes have been savored for centuries. Imagine people from all over the world standing over a sink with a salt shaker in one hand and a juicy tomato in the other. It’s a common thread. We can give thanks to sixteenth century European explorers who returned from Peru with tomatoes. Five centuries later, this global tomato has not lost its appeal. Whether hot and spicy in a Bengali curry or cool and refreshing in an icy gazpacho, tomatoes are a versatile and much-loved ingredient.
They also belong to the "superfoods" group. Lycopene is the secret. This plant pigment brings the blush of red to the tomato (green and orange tomatoes have lesser amounts). Considered a vegetable by most, tomatoes are actually the fruit of a plant from the Lycopersicon family, hence the name lycopene. Smaller amounts of this pigment are found in other fruits, such as watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guavas.
Lycopene is a carotenoid and like the beta-carotene found in carrots, it is a powerful antioxidant. Though beta-carotene may be converted into vitamin A, lycopene cannot. On the other hand, it is capable of slowing or halting oxidative processes, which may prevent or deter the onset of many diseases associated with aging. In one study, men who had heart attacks had lower tissue levels of lycopene than men with healthy hearts. More recent research indicates that men with low lycopene levels showed significant evidence of carotid artery thickening, a prime indicator of cardiovascular disease.
The lycopene in tomatoes is concentrated during the cooking process because of the water loss that occurs. Tomato paste and ketchup are the richest sources. Because lycopene is fat-soluble, cooking tomatoes with a small amount of oil will further increase lycopene absorption by the body. Full of fiber and vitamin C, tomatoes are a winning first step toward living a healthier life. It's easy to increase your intake when you add scrumptious tomato recipes to your menu. Here's one of my favorites.
Icy Gazpacho with Fresh Lime
The southern region of Spain is the birthplace of this refreshing summer favorite. The sweetness of plump, ripened tomatoes mingles with the fresh flavors of garden vegetables, cilantro and a hint of balsamic vinegar. Serve chilled with crunchy garlic bread or add a few shrimp for a twist on an old favorite.
Yield: 1 quarts; 4 (1-cup) servings
1 large Red Bell Pepper
2 large Tomatoes
or 6 Plum Tomatoes (about 1 pound)
1 large Cucumber
, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded
½ medium Yellow Onion
1 cup Tomato Juice
¼ cup Fresh Cilantro
, without stems, chopped
¼ cup Balsamic Vinegar
2 tablespoons Fresh Lime Juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Roasted Peppers such as Shishito
12 large Shrimp, poached or grilled
Roast the whole red pepper under a broiler or over a gas flame, turning occasionally, until the skin blisters and chars all over. Place in a bowl, cover with a lid, and allow it to steam to loosen the skin, or place in a paper bag. Carefully peel away the skin and remove the seeds. Cut the pepper into medium dice and set aside.
Cut half of the tomatoes, half of the cucumber, and half of the onion into 1-inch pieces and transfer to the bowl of a food processor or a blender jar. Add the roasted bell pepper and process to a puree. Transfer mixture to a medium mixing bowl. Add cilantro, vinegar and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Seed the remaining tomato. Cut remaining tomato, cucumber, and onion into medium dice and add to the soup along with the optional roast peppers, if using...
Refrigerate until chilled. Serve well chilled, garnished with cilantro and cooked shrimp if using.
Juicing tomatoes that haven't been cooked results in separation of the juice due to an enzyme that is activated when tomatoes are cut or crushed. Cooking the tomatoes first inactivates the enzyme, and the juiced tomatoes won't separate.
Nutrient Analysis: per 1 cup serving