Guest Blog (FROM GREECE): Tomato Paste, a Mediterranean Staple and Why you should use it

Guest Blog (FROM GREECE): Tomato Paste, a Mediterranean Staple and Why you should use it

by Elena Paravantes, RD

In my mother’s descriptions of my grandmother’s cooking and her own, one ingredient would come up that seemed odd to me: tomato paste. I would wonder: why would you use all these fresh ingredients and then add a canned tomato product?

Well, in the olden days it served a purpose: it was used as a substitute for tomatoes, when fresh ones were not available. Tomato paste was made at home as a way to preserve tomatoes to use during the winter. I read somewhere that tomato paste originated in Italy and and then its use spread across other areas of the Mediterranean, which makes perfect sense considering how important tomato is in the Mediterranean cuisine.

My mother remembers as a little girl in the 50’s, going to the local deli (in Greece) and getting 1-2 tablespoons of the stuff on a piece of wax paper so her mother could use it for cooking. What did they do with it? Well they made the known kokkinista, which translates as the “red ones”. These are dishes either made with tomatoes or tomato paste, hence the name referring to the redness.The tomato paste along with olive oil is warmed up (or almost sautéed) in a pot or pan, and the vegetables or meat are added and cooked. Of course it is also used in pasta and sauces and basically when you want to give a little color or added flavor.

Nowadays you can get tomatoes year round (not great tasting ones though) or use canned tomatoes, so why not use that instead? My mom noted that using the paste really gives a different, unique flavor that you just can’t get with fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes. And why not? Nutritionally, you will get plenty of benefits with tomato paste.

Tomato paste basically consists of cooked tomatoes that are strained. Studies have shown that processed tomato products such as tomato paste have higher levels of lycopene, an antioxidant known for its protective effect against some forms of cancer and also promoting skin health. But tomato paste is not what I would consider a processed product (in the bad sense), it is just heated and strained, containing only tomatoes and sometimes salt (no preservatives or sugar). In addition, when adding olive oil, as is common in Greek cooking, not only do you get the good monounsaturated fats and olive oil antioxidants, but the presence of fat increase the absorption of the antioxidants in the tomato. And if you are cooking with tomato paste you get an additional benefit: heating tomato paste with olive oil increases antioxidant activity.

A Quick Snack
My mother recalls the “poor” children getting a large slice of bread with tomato paste, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with oregano – a wonderful snack full of antioxidants from the tomato paste, olive oil and oregano plus good fats. The rich kids would get a slice of bread too, but with butter, sprinkled with sugar as those ingredients were more expensive and only people who had money could get them. How ironic, considering that the poor kid’s snack was so much healthier than the rich kid’s snack. Poor or not, I love that snack and my mom would give it to us slightly altering it and calling it “pizza”: bread brushed with olive oil and tomato paste, sprinkled with oregano and some shredded cheese, baked in the oven for 5 minutes.

Elena Paravantes

Elena Paravantes

Registered Dietitian

Award winning Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Writer specializing in the Mediterranean Diet. She has been active in the field of food and nutrition for over 15 years as a clinical dietitian, food and nutrition consultant, writer, teacher and lecturer, both in the U.S. and in Greece. Elena firmly believes in the wide-ranging health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet and is committed to educating the public about the wholesome food plan she grew up with through her writing, teaching and lecturing.

To learn more, check out Elena’s website: OliveTomato


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A Red, White, & Blue 4th of July

A Red, White, & Blue 4th of July

By Sharon Palmer, RD, author of Plant-Powered for Life

Most traditional, cultural diets—whether from Peru or Asia—are based on plants. Even in our own country, our diet once gravitated more towards plants. My mother, who grew up in Arkansas, enjoyed a wholesome plant-based diet; a typical meal was black-eyed peas, foraged greens, roasted tomatoes, and cornbread. It’s amazing to think about how far we’ve strayed away from a plant-centric diet in the United States in recent years.

Now when we think about most foods in the “Western diet,” we tend to think of foods characterized by large amounts of animal products, and few whole plant foods. It’s no surprise that this eating style has been linked with our current epidemic of chronic disease and obesity.

But there’s good news.

Many of America’s favorite foods can be made by better-tasting and better-for-you by piling on America’s favorite condiments – tomato products, including salsa, ketchup, and tomato sauce.

So healthy are tomato products that high intakes have been associated with important health benefits, including reduced risk of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease and some forms of cancer, according to a 2012 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And the best part is that there’s no need to break the bank to redeem the health benefits associated with tomato products. According to the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, tomato juices and tomato soups, carrots, and broccoli all scored the highest Nutrient Rich Foods (NRF) index per dollar. NRF is based on nine nutrients to encourage: protein; fiber; vitamins A, C, and E; calcium; iron; magnesium; and potassium; and on three nutrients to limit: saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium.

So, this 4th of July, invite over some friends and celebrate good health with this simple, nutritious red, white, and blue appetizer, made better by tomato products!

Red, White & Blue Salsa Cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 12-ounce can of salsa
  • 16 ounces of non-fat plain Greek yogurt (2, 8-ounce containers)or vegan sour cream (recipe here)
  • 1 package of blue corn tortilla chips
  • 16 plastic cups

Instructions:

  1. In each plastic cup, layer ~ ¼ cup of non-fat Greek yogurt, followed by 2 tablespoons salsa.
  2. Garnish with two tortilla chips.
  3. Store in the refrigerator until serving and serve with chips.

Makes around 6-8 individual dips.

 

Sharon Palmer

Sharon Palmer

Writer and Author of The Plant-Powered Diet

Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™ is a writer and author of The Plant-Powered Diet. Over 850 of her articles have been published in national publications, including PreventionBetter Homes and Gardens and Today’s Dietitian. She is also the editor of the award-winning publication Environmental Nutrition and writes for her blog, The Plant-Powered Blog. Her specific expertise is in plant-based nutrition, including Mediterranean, vegetarian and vegan diets.Her second book, Plant-Powered For Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps and 125 Delicious Recipesis available for purchase now.


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Can Tomatoes Help Your Kid Eat More Veggies?

Can Tomatoes Help Your Kid Eat More Veggies?

As school books are bought, back-to-school shopping is underway, and daily meal prep becomes crazier than ever—vegetables are easily forgotten.  They’re not always a child’s best friend. In fact, sometimes they may appear as a kid’s worst nightmare, especially if forced to eat their veggies before leaving the table.

But, what if there was a way to get your kiddo to dig into the veggies more? And what if that way happened to be tomatoes?! This revelation may sound quite odd, but I’ve found that kids are more likely to try new foods, if they have something familiar along with them that they actually like. And since spaghetti with marinara and pizza with tomato sauce happen to be right up there in kids’ favorites—tomato products are right along with them.

TOP 5 BELOVED WAYS TO DOCTOR-UP VEGGIES WITH TOMATO PRODUCTS

That being said, when trying to get your wee-one to gobble-up veggies, tomatoes may help get the job done a tad better. Remember, it can take a child over 15 times to try a food in order to like it. But, the more they’re exposed to a food, the more likely they’ll eat that item later on. Plus, parents are huge role models for kids. Kids model behaviors. If Mom and Dad are eating the veggie, kiddo is more likely to enjoy too.

Below are some simple ideas on how to cook-up some veggies, so your tot is more hot to trot when they come to the table.

 

  1. Roasted Broccoli Topped with Chunky or Stewed Tomatoes and Grated Parmesan Cheese: Cut broccoli florets into bite-size pieces, place on a baking sheet, spray with olive or canola oil, and cook for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Pull out tray and top broccoli with desired amount of chunky or stewed tomatoes, lightly sprinkle with shredded or grated parmesan cheese, salt to taste, and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until desired tenderness is achieved.
  2.      Sautéed Spinach with Diced Tomatoes: Sauté 4-6 cups uncooked spinach in ½ tablespoon of olive oil. When the spinach becomes wilted, add 1 cup roasted or diced tomatoes and let simmer until warm.
  3.      Grilled Zucchini Topped with Tomato Paste: Cut zucchini into strips, place on the grill, add a pinch of salt and olive oil, and top each strip with ½ tablespoon of tomato paste. Cook until warm.
  4.      Veggies in Tomato Sauce: Simply steam vegetables of choice until cooked. When vegetables are done, add them to a simmering chunky marinara sauce and serve as the vegetable.  The more sauce, the “saucier” the mixture will be. This makes a great healthful topping (while adding moisture and flavor) for grilled or baked chicken, turkey, fish, or lean beef.
  5.      Tomato Soup with Veggies: A super easy make, but a crowd pleaser. Nab your favorite tomato soup and doctor-it-up with all the veggies desired. Mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, celery, peppers, and string beans make fabulous additions.

HOW DO YOU GET YOUR KIDS TO EAT MORE VEGGIES?

Corinne Dobbas

Corinne Dobbas

MS, RD

Corinne Dobbas, MS, RD is a San Francisco-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition, health communications, and social media. She develops news segments for television stations, writes articles for various health and wellness sites, speaks at conferences, frequently guests for wellness groups in the online social media realm, counsels, and serves as a nutrition and social media consultant. Passionate about empowering people to reach and maintain a state of optimal wellness, Corinne’s messages reach thousands of people every day. Corinne strives to help people cultivate the best, healthiest, and happiest “you” there is. To learn more about Corinne, visit http://www.corinnedobbas.com/.


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Penne Puttanesca

Penne Puttanesca

by Leslie P. Schilling, MA, RDN, CSSD, LDN

I’m not Italian, but I aspire to be. This recipe has been tweaked and, I like to think, perfected over the course of a decade. We even searched for a better one in Italy and couldn’t find it. It’s quick, easy and the robust flavor will knock your socks off!

Ingredients

12-16 oz penne pasta

1/2c high-quality extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp anchovy paste

3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

2 tbsp dried oregano

24-28oz plum or diced tomatoes

1/2c pitted and chopped Kalamata olives

2-3 tbsp capers, drained

1/4c fresh, Italian parsley, chopped

Instructions
Get your pasta water boiling.
Now start your sauce by putting high-quality extra virgin olive oil in a large sauce pan with red pepper flakes. Heat to medium heat and stir for about 2 minutes to infuse your oil. Now add chopped garlic, dried oregano and anchovy paste (it’s not overwhelming, I promise). Mix well to get the paste dissolved and now add your tomatoes, along with Kalamata olives and capers. Let simmer for 5 – 10 minutes.
When your pasta is al dente, drain thoroughly. Pour pasta into sauce mixture and parsley. Mix and serve very hot.  Wowsers–so good! I like to serve with grilled chicken or sautéed shrimp on top. If you’re not feeling like pasta, it’s fantastic as a sauce over grilled chicken, pork or fish.

Leslie Schilling

Leslie Schilling

Dietitian

Leslie is a Memphis-based dietitian specializing in wellness, disordered eating and sport nutrition. She owns Schilling Nutrition Therapy, LLC, and YourSupperSolution.com. When she’s not counseling, planning super meals, or hanging out with her family, you can find Leslie using her social media channels and speaking platforms to deliver science-based, non-diet lifestyle messages with a dash of humor.

Instagram: http://instagram.com/leslieschilling/


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Why Buying USA-Grown Tomato Products Matters

Why Buying USA-Grown Tomato Products Matters

Every visit to the grocery store or a restaurant is a chance for you to voice which products and companies you want to support. We vote with our food dollars. Do you want organic, less sugar, more flavors or lower prices? Your votes are tabulated through your purchases and ultimately your options/quality of products will improve. What about the country of origin? Why should this matter to a busy shopper who is just trying to put food on the table? Because where our food comes from has a huge impact, not only on the quality of the food we eat, but on our local economy and the farmers who grow our food.

Know what you’re getting! 

In a recent documentary “Empire of ‘Red Gold” the filmmaker set out to learn about the tomato products industry globally. He went to China, Italy, and California, the three largest growers of processed tomatoes. In China, he found pollution, terrible worker conditions, fraud and corruption with surprisingly similar issues in Italy. In fact, the legitimacy of so-called “San Marzano” tomato products exported to the U.S. has been often questioned. The issue is more well known regarding imported Olive Oil but is very similar. This has even been called out by the Italians themselves, who have been quoted as saying that as much as 95% of the “San Marzano” tomatoes being imported to America are not actually from the San Marzano Region at all. Questions abound about what is being added and where the tomatoes really come from. Indeed, in the documentary Empire of Red Gold, they found Chinese canned tomatoes being shipped to Italy and then being relabeled as Italian. When you buy American-grown canned tomatoes and tomato products, you can be confident that standards of sustainability, worker justice, safety, and over-all proud production practices are followed.

Quality: 

Everyone has heard the lore of “San Marzano” tomatoes from Italy. The celebrities on cooking shows or online often recommend them, but why? In many blind taste tests the USA-grown tomatoes are crowned the winner. People are often surprised by this, but it just comes down to marketing. So, like all things, it’s important to question the hype. You may favor one brand of tomato products over another—often it’s because you may have grown up with your grandma making “Sunday gravy” with that brand, but discover for yourself your own favorite brand. It’s important to not fall prey to the marketing hype or some celebrity that says you need to pay more for tomatoes shipped across the globe when the world’s best tomatoes are grown in our very own country. When the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen set out to make the perfect pizza sauce, they were SHOCKED when they discovered that the USA grown tomato product they tested far outshined any of the 10+ imported “San Marzano” canned tomatoes.

 

Global Impact: 

Surveys show that more than half of Americans consider sustainability when making food purchases. So, as we continue to learn more about the importance of sustainability and the global environmental footprint associated with our food choices, it emphasizes the urgency of purchasing foods that are produced locally, rather than those grown on the opposite side of the globe. Foods that are produced far away and are transported long distances produce a higher carbon footprint, which impacts climate change. Just think of how much fossil fuel it requires to ship tomato products from Italy or China, compared to simply purchasing products that are grown in the United States. Indeed, the sunny climate and rich soil in many parts of America are well suited for producing tomatoes, which is why they may be grown in family-owned farms with lower agricultural inputs than many other locations. It’s greener to purchase USA-grown tomatoes than fancy imported tomatoes, not to mention it’s better for your pocketbook.

Local Impact: 

So, now you know how to read beyond marketing myths, actual taste differences, and global impact. But keep in mind what really matters the most: USA farmers. Right now the farmers that grow our food are struggling with global trade wars, tariffs, and increased costs up and down the supply chain. The people who get hit the hardest are the thousands of family farms and the workers that they employ, and the local economies built around agriculture that struggle to make a living feeding America. When you make your choice at the grocery store, you essentially decide who you will support: Either American farms and the communities they support, or foreign countries with questionable oversight, food safety, worker and health regulations, and often an inferior product.

 

When you buy American grown products, this is who you’re supporting:

So when you’re making decisions for your family, going out to eat or picking out which canned tomato to buy, or ready to use marinara sauces on the retail shelf, frozen pizzas, lasagna in the freezer section, ketchup, salsa, etc remember the American families that are growing this food and decide who you want to support. Do the right thing! Buy local, delicious, American-grown tomatoes.

Alec Wasson

Alec Wasson

Chief Tomato Evangelist

Tomato Products Wellness Council


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