A New Spin on the Trusty Tomato

A New Spin on the Trusty Tomato

Written by Densie Webb, PhD, RD

If you’re like me, you’re always on the lookout for fresh, new ways to use familiar foods, especially vegetables. Tomatoes are a perfect example of a versatile vegetable that can be added to dishes that may not immediately come to mind. Think of tomatoes, and the first foods you think of are likely to be stand-by dishes, like spaghetti, pizza, and tomato soup. While these are loved and time-honored dishes, maybe it’s time to expand your tomato repertoire. There are so many more ways to incorporate tomato products and their health benefits (antioxidants, vitamins A and C, potassium and folic acid) into your diet. Think desserts, jams, and ethnic dishes from Croatia and cultural favorites like Cajun sauces. Canned tomato sauces, tomato pastes, chopped, crushed or pureed, whole peeled, or fire-roasted tomatoes are available year round, are nutritious and add that certain something to new dishes. And most canned tomato products offer the option of already being seasoned with basil, oregano, garlic or onion. You can also opt for organic, if you choose. Here are a few new dishes for you to try on for size the next time you’re up for trying something different with trusty tomato products as part of the mix.

Tomato Soup Cake—this seemingly oddball, but delicious pairing of the rich tomato flavor and traditional cake ingredients is sure to become a family favorite. It’s ideal for holidays or any day you’re in the mood for something sweetly different. Condensed tomato soup is the tomato-based ingredient that adds flavor and a health boost to this recipe. https://tomatowellness.me/2012/12/03/a-healthy-holiday/

Cajun Tomato Sauce—get a taste of South Louisiana with this recipe, which makes use of both tomato paste and canned, fire-roasted tomatoes (yum!) and pairs them with grilled shrimp and Gouda grits for a burst of flavor with a Cajun twist. The pairing of shrimp and grits has never tasted better. https://tomatowellness.me/2015/06/21/grilled-shrimp-gouda-grits-with-a-cajun-tomato-sauce.

Tomato, Mushroom and Beef Stew—this dish provides a dollop of the “fifth taste” dubbed “umami,” a savory flavor that’s not sweet, sour, salty or bitter. In fact, tomatoes are one of the main sources of the umami flavor in the U.S. Tomato sauce and Portobello and shiitake mushrooms in the dish provide that unique umami flavor. https://tomatowellnessme/2015/05/06/tomatoes-a-umami-superstar-tomato-muschroom-and-beef-stew/

Croatian Sauerkraut—brings a bit of the Balkan peninsula to your table. This sauerkraut recipe, a traditional holiday side dish in Croatia, provides the one-two punch of nutrient-rich tomato sauce and the proven health benefits of cabbage and onions, which are rich sources of antioxidants themselves. https://tomatowellness.me/2015/01/26/croatian-sauerkraut

Tomato Chipotle Jam—this is not your typical jam. The ingredients include fired roasted diced tomatoes, red wine and Chipotle powder, making this savory, low-fat, low-sugar spread a real standout.

 

Canned Tomatoes Good for Your Health, Easy on Your Pocketbook

Canned Tomatoes Good for Your Health, Easy on Your Pocketbook

Canned tomato products, ranging from whole peeled tomatoes to tomato paste, are not only convenient and economical, they all provide the health benefits of fresh tomatoes. In fact, in some cases, they are more concentrated sources of the nutrients found in fresh tomatoes, such as the antioxidant lycopene (cooking breaks down the tomato’s cell wall, releasing lycopene), blood-pressure-lowering potassium and wound-healing vitamin C—all for about one-third to one-half the cost per pound of fresh tomatoes. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, fresh tomatoes range in price from $1.29 to $3.48 per pound, while canned tomatoes average about $0.91 per pound. Tomatoes destined for canning don’t have to be beautiful so they can be harvested by a machine rather than by hand, reducing the cost. Of course, you’ll pay more for organic and imported and specialty canned products, but generally, canned tomato products are real money savers.

Here’s a guide to the most popular types of canned tomato products that significantly cut costs from your grocery budget, shave off tons of time from food preparation, and provide a real nutrition boost. And check out the delicious recipe ideas for each type of canned tomato product. Feel free to stock up because canned tomato products last 12–18 months when stored at room temperature.

  1. Whole peeled tomatoes—like the name says, these are whole peeled tomatoes packed in tomato juice. They’re probably the most versatile of the tomato products. You can use them whole, dice them, or put them in a food processor or blender to make tomato puree or tomato sauce. Great in soups and stews. http://tomatowellness.com/chicken-ratatoullie
  2. Diced tomatoes—are chopped tomatoes and are usually packed with tomato juice and with calcium chloride to help them retain their shape. If maintaining their shape isn’t the goal in the dish your cooking up, then diced tomatoes aren’t necessary. They are available in a variety of flavors, including fire roasted for a smoky flavor. http://tomatowellness.com/easy-gazpacho-2
  3. Stewed tomatoes—these are tomatoes that have been cut up and cooked, usually with seasonings, like salt, sugar, or spices. Ingredients vary among brands, so be sure to read the ingredient label. If you use them in recipes calling for plain tomato products, the added seasonings may change the flavor of the dish. http://tomatowellness.com/mushroom-bean-and-roasted-pepper-chili
  4. Crushed tomatoes—have a texture somewhere between diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. They have a thick consistency and may contain small pieces of tomatoes. http://tomatowellness.com/mushroom-minestrone
  5. Tomato puree—is smoother than crushed tomatoes, but maintains a thick consistency, but not nearly as concentrated as paste. It can often be used in place of crushed tomatoes. http://tomatowellness.com/artichoke-turkey-pizza-2
  6. Tomato sauce—has a pourable texture and may have spices, such as garlic, oregano, onion powder, or basil added. If you’re cutting back on salt, no-salt-added varieties are also available. http://tomatowellness.com/crimini-and-pork-albondigas-meatballs-with-chipotle-tomato-sauce
  7. Tomato paste—is easily identified because it comes in small 6-ounce cans and is the thickest of the canned tomato products. Add water and you’ve got tomato sauce. It also comes in flavored varieties, from pesto to roasted garlic. http://tomatowellness.com/bean-stew-with-chicken-sausage-2

 

 

Philly Cheese Steak Smothered in Tomatoes

Philly Cheese Steak Smothered in Tomatoes

This lighter version of a classic favorite sandwich will help keep Dad healthy, while also keeping his taste buds more than satisfied. Nutritional Information per Serving: 597 calories, 41 g carbohydrates, 36 g protein, 33 g fat, 531 mg sodium, 6 g fiber.
Ingredients
  • 1 TBSP EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
  • 1 LB. LEAN SKIRT STEAK, THINLY SLICED
  • 2 CLOVES GARLIC, MINCED
  • 1 SMALL YELLOW ONION, SLICED
  • 2 OZ PORTOBELLO MUSHROOMS, SLICED
  • 1 GREEN BELL PEPPER, SLICED
  • 1 15-OZ CAN TOMATO SAUCE, NO SALT ADDED
  • GROUND BLACK PEPPER, AS DESIRED
  • ¼ TSP OREGANO
  • 4 OZ MOZZARELLA CHEESE, PART SKIM
  • 4 WHOLE GRAIN ROLLS (HOAGIE OR SUBMARINE), SPLIT
 
Instructions
  1. HEAT OLIVE OIL IN A LARGE SKILLET OR SAUTÉ PAN.
  2. PLACE SLICED STEAK INTO THE PAN AND SIMMER UNTIL TENDER, ABOUT 15 MINUTES.
  3. ADD GARLIC AND ONIONS, COOKING FOR 2 MINUTES.
  4. ADD MUSHROOMS AND PEPPERS AND SIMMER FOR AN ADDITIONAL 10 MINUTES.
  5. ADD TOMATO SAUCE, BLACK PEPPER AND OREGANO AND BRING TO SIMMER. COOK UNTIL VEGETABLES AND MEAT ARE VERY TENDER.
  6. ARRANGE MEAT, VEGETABLES AND SAUCE OVER SPLIT ROLL AND TOP WITH 1 OZ OF MOZZARELLA CHEESE.


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What this Dietitian Learned on a Cannery Tour

What this Dietitian Learned on a Cannery Tour

By Leslie Schilling, RD 

No foods were quite so delicious to me as a tomato sandwich on the beach with my family in the summertime, or my mom’s baked spaghetti loaded with tomato sauce and canned diced tomatoes. In full disclosure, I’ve always been a tomato lover. So, naturally, I was honored to be invited on a tour visiting family farms that produce around 95% of all the canned tomatoes in the United States. We also visited peach and pear farms and learned how many of these beautiful fruits are picked, transported, and canned, in a matter of hours. Let me tell you what I learned about cans, and about myself.

I had canned food amnesia (and I bet I’m not alone).

To be honest, I’d forgotten about canned produce. Between my formal education as a dietitian and a person who has the privilege to buy fresh produce, canned produce had all but disappeared from my grocery list and kitchen. Seeing the process of produce being picked fresh from the field, carefully prepared, and canned, reminded me that I’ve been missing out on the nutrition that canned foods can provide (and sadly, so were my clients). As a dietitian, my clients deserve recommendations that are both nutrient-rich and cost-effective. This tour helped me remember that cans can deliver quality nutrition and reduce the prep time needed to get busy families around a table together. Regardless of your household food budget, canned produce can play a role in every kitchen. 

Steel cans are recyclable – 100% recyclable

My mind was blown on this one. Did you know that a magnet can retrieve steel cans from a kitchen trash bag that ended up in a landfill? That can you never recycled? I didn’t either. Steel cans are retrieved from either landfills or recycling plants and remade into new cans. This makes steel cans a smart choice for families looking to add nutrition and care for the environment we live in. 

Nutrition sealed in time.

The canning process is one that has been around for more than a hundred years. While the technology involved in monitoring a cannery may look like a spaceship control center, the process remains simple, clean, and effective. As I watched tomatoes being placed into a rolling water bath, flash-steamed, and promptly sealed, it reminded of why my grandmother canned tomatoes right out of the garden. She’d say they’re fresh now, and they’ll be just as fresh when we open them in the winter. 

Not only is the freshness sealed in, the carotenoids that make tomatoes a nutritional powerhouse are amplified. Canned tomatoes are known for their cancer-fighting compound lycopene, which becomes 2.5 times more bioavailable after the canning process. The canning “process” (which is really just steaming or cooking), also brings out valuable nutrients in peaches. Canned peaches have higher levels of vitamin C and folate compared to the fresh fruit. 

Using canned foods can help reduce food waste. 

These days, commercially canned produce must include a best by date,  which is generally 36 months from the date of being sealed. When these canned foods are prepped, ready to open and add to a meal, we can also reduce food waste. Sadly, I’ve thrown away far too many fresh fruits and vegetables that I’ve forgotten or didn’t have time to prepare. Keeping canned produce in mind in our homes may help us add nutritional value and reduce food waste at the same time.

If you forget about the goodness of cans like I did, try to remember the acronym I created to prevent myself from ever experiencing canned food amnesia again. 

S – Sealed at the peak of freshness.

T – Takes less time and money.

I  – Can improve overall nutrition quality.

R – Can reduce food waste in fully recyclable packaging. 

Let’s help families STIR in cost-effective nutrition that’s as fresh as fresh can be. 

Big thanks to Pacific Coast Producers for hosting this amazing opportunity to see the harvest and canning process.

Leslie Schilling

Leslie Schilling

Nutrition Counseling for Families

Leslie Schilling owns a Las Vegas-based coaching practice, specializing in nutrition counseling for families, those of all ages with disordered eating concerns, and professional athletes and performers. In addition to running her practice, Leslie serves as a performance nutrition consultant for Cirque du Soleil® and an eating disorder specialist and supervisory consultant for eating disorder treatment centers in Nevada. With her warm, compassionate, and entertaining personality, Leslie been featured in media outlets like Women’s Health, Self, Pregnancy Magazine, The Yoga Journal, Bicycling, BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, US News & World Report, and on HGTV. You may know her best as the creator of the Born To Eat® approach and co-author of the award-winning book, Born To Eat.