Crispy, Spicy, Fried Green Tomatoes (Hummus, White Bean Spreads, too!)

It can break your heart. Watching your tomato plant slowly dying. Powdery mildew creeps along the branches, the leaves turn yellow as if preparing for winter, the fruits hang lower. Sadly, some of those tomatoes won’t have time to ripen before it is time to hack down the plant.

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But your tomatoes can have a second chance. Sliced thinly with a cornmeal crust, they are a delicious incarnation as Fried Green Tomatoes.

I suggest using paprika and sugar in the crust. The paprika gives a smoky spice that marries ideally with the cornmeal and the bitter tomato. The sugar serves two purposes: it adds sweetness to an otherwise bitter tomato (it hasn’t had time to collect the sugars that make its red counterparts so delicious). Also, the sugar in the crust caramelizes as it is cooked, leaving a crispy layer. There are infinite ways to modify the coating. I think cornmeal works best. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

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Fried Green Tomatoes

Serves 2 hungry people, or 4 as an appetizer or light lunch.

4 medium unripe green tomatoes

1/2 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

1-2 cups cornmeal

1-2 Tbs sugar

1-2 tsps hot paprika

Vegetable oil and butter for frying

Slice the tomatoes 1/4 inch thick. Discard the top and bottom slices. Mix the cornmeal, sugar, and paprika in one bowl. In two other bowls, arrange the flour and eggs separately. Set a large frying pan over medium heat with 4-5 Tbs vegetable oil and a healthy knob of butter. Set the oven to ~180-200 degrees. While the oil heats, first salt and pepper both sides of the tomato slices. Then lightly flour both sides, just enough for an even dusting. The flour gives an even surface for the egg to stick. Then dunk each slice in the egg, letting the excess drip off, then cover in the cornmeal, being sure it is fully coated. Repeat with 5-6 slices more. Once the oil is hot, carefully slide the prepared slices into the pan. While they cook, continue preparing the tomato slices, adding more cornmeal to the bow (and sugar and paprika) if necessary. After 3 minutes or so, check the frying tomatoes. I like a healthy browning. Flip them over carefully, cook on the other side. After 2-3 minutes more, remove from the oil, and put on a plate with a couple paper towels to drain. Immediately salt them. Put the plate in the oven to stay warm. You might need to scoop out cornmeal from the oil if it is smoking. You can run a paper towel around the edges if that helps. Add another knob of butter, enjoy the sizzle, and slide in the next round of tomato slices. Continue until all are cooked. Eat immediately.

And a special bonus!

Ben and I enjoyed our FGTs with various condiments: French mustard, horseradish, cheddar cheese, and Hummus, and White Bean Spread.

I read many other recipes and then combined them to make the following two spreads. The hummus was hummus, but the white bean spread was so many different aromas and flavors, it is surely to be a favorite from now on. Both are inexpensive to make, and save you a ton on buying the premade version. Ben didn’t want too much tahini, so it is largely omitted here. Add more if that is what you like.

Hummus

Makes 3-4 cups

4 cups cooked chickpeas

2 tsp tahini

juice of 1.5 lemons

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 tsp salt

2 tsp cumin

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup butter, softened

white pepper, cayenne, coriander to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor except for the olive oil. Puree. While it is running, add the olive oil. Add enough until it is the consistency you prefer, though do not add too much, as the flavor of the oil will dominate.

For the white beans, I added grains of paradise, which I had just picked up at the local spice shop, Christina’s. They have a peppery flavor, but also have a fruity side, similar to cardamom.

White Bean Spread

Makes 3-4 cups

4 cups cooked white beans

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tsp salt

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tsp grains of paradise, freshly ground

Splash of lemon juice

Dashes of cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cardamom

Add all ingredients except the oil to a food processor and puree. While the processor is running, add the oil. Adjust seasonings as you prefer.

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