Growing up, raw tomato was my least favorite vegetable. Nothing elicited more feigned vomiting or shrieks of "ewwwwww!" than a thin slice of tomato accidentally landing on my sandwich.
I unfairly blamed my mom for many things growing up, but even she will admit to being the source of my severe tomato aversion. Want to see a grown woman have a panic attack? Just place a wedge of beefsteak on her plate and let the fun begin. In a perfect example of social learning theory (look at that psychology degree paying off!), I picked up this same behavior.
It wasn’t until many years later when I tried a slice of heirloom tomato in a caprese salad that I finally came around. It was my love of cheese that inspired me to swallow my fears and take that first bite, and when I did, I found it was nothing like the mealy bland tomatoes I tried in the past. This tomato was firm and juicy with the perfect balance of fruity sweetness and acidity. It was more than a vehicle for mozzarella - it was delicious!
There’s a reason this heirloom tomato tasted so different from the ones I was used to. Most grocery store vegetables are cultivated to hold up through transport, look pretty on the shelf and to resist herbicides and pesticides. Taste isn’t very high on that list of priorities. Although there is no strict definition for an heirloom plant, they are typically old varieties, developed before the age of industrial agriculture. Heirlooms seeds were preserved by passing them down generation to generation. Families usually picked for the tastiest vegetable, not necessarily the best looking or most shipable.
If you garden, you should grow heirloom plants. You can find some heirloom varieties at the farmer's market, home and gardening stores like Home Depot, and many health food stores also have a good selection of heirloom seeds.
Feel free to use this recipe for chopped caprese as a template. Add toasted bread cubes to make a panzanella salad. Add white beans or tofu cubes to increase the protein content. Serve over arugula or mixed greens or chopped cucumber to add more veggies.
Heirloom Caprese Salad
- 1 1/2 lb mixed heirloom tomatoes of choice
- 1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
- 1/4 cup basil leaves, slivered
- 8 ounces fresh mini-mozzarella cheese balls
- 2 tablespoons pesto
- Flakey sea salt and olive oil, for serving.
- Chop tomatoes into bite sized pieces. Toss in a large bowl with mozzarella, olives, basil and pesto. Season with sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil and serve.
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