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Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2007 01:01 am

Green with tomato envy

In some ways, Southerners are smarter than us

Untitled Document If we believe everything we see on the big screen, then fried green tomatoes were invented at the Whistle Stop Café in Alabama, where Idgie Threadgoode manned the stove. And that’s the truth, Ruth (Jamison). Southern folks are so savvy, taking an unripe piece of fruit and turning it into a tasty morsel that works its way into the memory bank for time immemorial. How did they know that such a crazy notion would work? Well, it’s quite likely that they got a lesson in ingenuity from the Italians, who in the 17th century were having issues with this newfangled vine fruit from the Americas and may have fried them while green for flavor. What happens when you fry up a green tomato that’s been dipped and dredged is a bit of alchemy, when a rock-hard, puckery fruit gets coaxed from sour to sweet and softens up like a teenage boy in love, held together by a crispy, crackly exterior of seasoned cornmeal that seals in the juices. The contrasts are near-poetic.
Back in Idgie Threadgoode’s day, those tomatoes would have been fried in either bacon drippings or lard, and some folks will argue that there’s no other way. But for vegetarians or saturated-fat worrywarts, peanut oil, with its high smoking point, does the job respectably. Some folks like their fried green tomatoes with remoulade, a bit of mayo, or even a few strips of bacon for a full-on pork-fat experience — but me, I like them all by themselves, piled up like pancakes, with my fork at the ready.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
Fried Green Tomatoes Adapted from Not Afraid of Flavor,
by Ben and Karen Barker

Eight to 12 slices of firm, unripe green tomato,
  1/2 inch thick
1/2 cup buttermilk (alternatively, use same amount    of milk or one egg beaten with 1/4 cup of water) 1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal 2 tablespoons flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon black pepper 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano Approximately 1 cup peanut oil (alternatively,
  lard or bacon drippings)

In a shallow dish, place sliced tomatoes in a single layer and pour buttermilk on top, making sure that they are completely covered. To make coating, combine cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, cayenne, and oregano. With a pair of tongs, lift tomatoes one at a time from the buttermilk, allowing excess liquid to drain, and dredge them in the cornmeal mixture. Tomatoes should be completely coated. Heat oil over medium heat (preferably in a cast-iron skillet) — oil should be simmering, about 350 degrees. Dip tomatoes into oil, in small batches, until crisp and golden, turning them once. Each side will take two to three minutes. With tongs, remove tomatoes and allow them to drain on paper towels or brown paper bags. Keep warm in a low oven — around 200 degrees — until you are ready to eat. Makes about four servings.
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