Pan con Tomate (Tomatoes on toast!)

My husband travels a lot with his job. Whilst it takes him to all sorts of interesting places, some locations can be a bit challenging when it comes to finding healthy plant-based food options. Each country has its local breakfast options – this week he’s off to Bangalore and so he’s looking forward to getting a delicious masala dosa in the morning. Continue reading “Pan con Tomate (Tomatoes on toast!)”

Simply Tasty Tomato Sauce

Tomatoes play a major role in my everyday food.  As creamy sauces are generally off the menu, tomato based ones are always the tasty option, and very easy to make. I’ve already posted about the nutritional wonders of tomatoes (see http://www.foodiesensitive.blogspot.in/2012/10/tasty-tomatoes.html); just to add that tomatoes are fabulous for your hair and skin, repairing sun damage and helping you look vibrant and younger, just like sweet potatoes!

Tomatoes are packed full of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. These protect your eyes, skin and hair and can help to reverse cell damage done by carcinogenic substances and toxins that come from our food and environment. Beta-carotenes are also anti-inflammatory and so can help reduce chronic pain caused by inflammatory conditions, although like aubergines, tomatoes are part of the nightshade family which some sensitive souls are allergic too. It seems in the world of food intolerance and allergies, anything and everything can cause problems for somebody, somewhere.

But for those who don’t have a problem, tomatoes are amazing and really should be included as part of a plant based diet as often as possible.

The tomato sauce in Tomato Power is made by simply roasting fresh tomatoes with some garlic and olive oil, then blitzing them together to create a delicious, flavoursome sauce. Living in India, beautiful, fresh, vibrant tomatoes bursting with flavour were available all year round. Back in the UK, tomatoes are really seasonal and those available in the supermarkets tend to be lacking in lustre and taste. So tinned tomatoes are the only option, which is a shame as much of the wonderfully high potassium content is lost in the tinning process. However, adding in other fabulously nutrient-dense produces like celery, carrot, garlic and basil helps to counter balance some of these loses.

A word of warning if you’re eating out and choose a tomato sauce based dish – check whether the chef has used butter instead of oil. As butter creates a richer flavour, it’s more common than you think. I’ve left a restaurant many times thinking I’ve eaten a dairy free dish, only to be struck by a headache or migraine later on.

This sauce is really easy and the one I used for my sweet potato stack. Best cooked over a low heat, the flavours are intense and can by used as a sauce for pasta, vegetables, bakes etc or watered down with vegetable stock to make delicious soup. Make a large batch and freeze some, so you’ve always got a quick, easy dinner to hand.

Tasty tomato sauce
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
2 large stick celery
1 -2 cloves garlic (depending on size/taste)
olive oil
400g tin chopped tomatoes
handful basil leaves
salt and pepper
Finely chop the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Heat a glug of olive oil on a gentle heat, and lightly saute the onion until it begins to soften, the add the celery and carrot. Continue cooking on a low heat for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, keeping the heat low, and cook for a few minutes, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the tinned tomatoes, stir well and simmer until everything feels soft and well cooked. Turn off the heat and add the torn basil leaves and season to taste (not much salt as the tinned tomatoes are already a little salty). Cool a little then use a blender to blitz it to a smooth sauce. Use straight away, or reheat when ready – and enjoy!!!

Tomato power!

Natural food products are constantly under investigation by scientists – and often the large corporations that fund them – to find the next superfood, the key to health or a particular chemical that can be claimed to be discovered and then patented. One of the latest studies to hit the headlines is about tomatoes, or rather the lycopene found in them. Published in Neurology magazine this month (the abstract can be found at http://www.neurology.org/content/79/15/1540.abstract if you’re interested!), a group of scientists in Finland monitored over 1000 men for 12 years and found the risk of stroke was cut by 55% in those with the highest blood levels of lycopene.  That’s pretty impressive!
Lycopene has already been heralded as a hero with evidence that it can help prevent or slow the growth of certain cancers, particularly prostate cancer. There are even tomatoes that have been bred to have double the amount of lycopene, and no doubt sold at a premium price! (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4896026.stm).

Lycopene is a carotenoid, a phytochemical that gives the red pigment to some fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, watermelon, red bell peppers and papaya, but sadly not strawberries or cherries! It’s a powerful antioxidant that soaks up free radicals roaming around the body. These great anti oxidant properties have been connected to improving conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and now stroke. Free radicals are also associated with the ageing process, so hopefully if they are mopped up by lycopene, youthful skin will follow (maybe!).

The percentage of lycopene in red fruit and vegetables increases as it ripens. In fact, the lycopene content of tomatoes has been shown to increase and become more bioavailable when processed. This includes tinned tomatoes and manufactured tomato products such as pasta sauce and ketchup. This is great for food companies, some of whom are sponsoring ongoing research into the beneficial effects of ketchup. Unfortunately, from a purely nutritional point of view, this causes some other problems; the tinning process increases the sodium content of tomatoes and most sauces and ketchups have lots of added sugar, salt and preservatives, so not so good for overall health. And of course the supplement industry has seen an opportunity and you can buy lycopene tablets, but are these really necessary?

Tomatoes as a whole food contain lots of other goodies including potassium and vitamin C which tend to be lost when processed and heated, along with B vitamins, beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A) and of course has fibre and no cholesterol, all good reasons to eat them in their natural form, a fantastic whole food in a healthy diet.

Personally, I love to roast tomatoes with onion, a little olive oil and some garlic, then when cooked blitz them all together and reheat either as a sauce or add some vegetable stock to make a delicious tomato soup. When we first came to India, it was quite hard to find tinned tomatoes or tomato sauces that were suitable for someone with food intolerance – milk turns up in the strangest of things! So I had to get used to using the real thing, and found this to be the best way – the roasting concentrates the flavour and the blitzing increases the bioavailability of the lycopene without adding lots of nasty extras.

watermelon
Wonderful watermelon

Interestingly, watermelon contains more lycopene than tomatoes, but also a higher water content, so you would need to eat a larger amount. It’s not as easily available in the west as tomatoes though, although over here in India, it so easy to find – and cheap – and works great as a base for smoothies.
Of course, the real message in this latest research is that fruit and vegetables are good for us! Eating a full range of produce provides us with all the nutrients we need to stay healthy – as long as they are in their wholefood form. If we only ate red pigmented vegetables then not only would we miss out on all the other antioxidants and nutrients available, in the long run the pigment could become concentrated in our skin and as much as I love tomatoes, I don’t really want to look like one!

Interesting tomato fact (well I found it interesting!!)
Apparently, a whole tomato has no flavour; that only comes by biting, cutting or cooking it. Carefully extracted tomato liquid has no taste. Biting into the fruit releases an enzyme that breaks down larger molecules into smaller ones and gives it the flavour. This enzyme reacts differently when cut crossways, so they will have more flavour sliced.