By Cassie Johnston
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I’m going to drop a little bit of honesty on you right in the middle of these pictures of unripe tomatoes—I’m currently in the midst of a healthy eating crisis. For the longest time, I thought I knew what “healthy eating” meant. It meant kale and chia seeds and smoothies and protein and tofu. It meant counting calories and checking ingredients. But as more and more stuff comes off from our garden, I’m noticing my definition is shifting. I’m starting to include things like full-fat ice cream, fresh fruit cobbler, and fried green tomatoes into what I consider healthy. There is some small part of my brain that says, you shouldn’t eat these things, they are bad, thanks to the years of conditioning. But there is also a much larger part of my brain that keeps thinking that there is no way eating this way can be bad for you. No way that eating real food picked just outside your kitchen can be bad for you, even when you pan-fry it in butter.
For the longest time, I’ve been so hyper focused on losing weight. Even when I wasn’t losing weight, I was trying to lose weight. I was mentally tracking calories or not-entirely-consciously picking the salad over the pasta. And my food choices have reflected that bias for years. It hasn’t been as much about food being healthy or unhealthy. It’s been about food being weight-gaining or not-weight-gaining. I mean, sure, these fried green tomatoes may be high in calories and fat. Will they help me lose weight? Probably not. But are they actually unhealthy? I don’t think they are. I don’t think a tomato that I picked off a vine (that I nurtured from a little seed), then dipped in some egg, flour and cornmeal can possibly be bad for me. Even if it’s cooked in a way that is typically “unhealthy.” In my brain, there is a difference between these guys and the deep-fried dinner I had at the local July 4th celebration last week.
Maybe I’m just rationalizing my eating choices recently. But it’s something I’ve definitely been thinking about. In other words, it hasn’t escaped me that the last handful of recipes I’ve posted haven’t been considered traditionally “healthy” or “light.” And I think I’m okay with it. I realize that some of you might not be on board with my recent attitude shift. I went through a similar phase of not-so-light recipes a few years back, and I got an email saying that I should stop pretending to be a health blogger, because my recipes weren’t healthy at all. To each his or her own, but I feel healthy. And my doctors say I’m healthy, so, I think I’m going to keep on keepin’ on. And who knows, when the weather cools down and my kale plants start producing again, maybe I’ll be back to the lighter side of cooking.
Anywho, enough it’s-all-about-me time. Let’s talk fried green tomatoes! I’m gonna go ahead and venture a guess that a whole bunch of you have never had a fried green tomato (where you at Yankees, where you at?). Fried green tomatoes are, quite literally, fried unripe tomatoes. No, they aren’t a special variety of green tomatoes. No, they aren’t tomatillos. They are regular ole red tomatoes that haven’t ripened yet. Why would you pick tomatoes before they ripen? I’m glad you asked. Two big reasons. First up (and the reason why we currently have a surplus of green tomatoes), if your tomato plants are a little small and sad, but are totally overloaded with fruits, you can pick a few of the green ones off so the plant spends more of its energy growing big and strong instead of plumping up fruit. This is actually where most folks agree the idea of frying up green tomatoes came from—gardeners and farmers thinning their crops to help out the plants.
The second reason is a freeze. Tomatoes are heat-loving and cold-hating plants. The first freeze means the end of tomatoes, and almost always you’ll still have a bucketload of unripe ones on the vines when this happens. You can harvest them just before the freeze and ripen them indoors in a paper bag (we do this!) or you can use them for fried green tomatoes, pickled tomatoes, or green tomato salsa. Folks have gotten really quite creative with ways to use up green tomato surpluses.
You can get fried green tomatoes in pretty much every restaurant in this area (although, admittedly, we are pretty much as far north as the FGT craze goes). The key to a really delicious bunch of fried green tomatoes is texture. Too hard and you’ll feel like you’re eating a…well…green tomato. Too soft and you’ll feel like you’re eating a rotten tomato. Fried green tomatoes should be tender and soft, but still firm enough to slice with a knife and fork.
Part of the fun of fried green tomatoes is the condiment you choose to use. Really, they are quite mildly flavored when finished, so the tomato slices are almost always paired with a bold sauce or relish to balance out the bite. Here, I used Sriracha-spiced yogurt, but I’ve heard of folks using corn relish, garlic aioli, remoulade, or just a really good hot sauce.
Now, before I share my recipe with you, I have to put a disclaimer on it as to not anger the way-more-Southern-than-I people reading (hi, guys!). There is quite the controversy about what makes a “real” fried green tomato. A lot of purists out there just dip the tomato slices in a bit of flour, salt and pepper, fry it up and call it a day. In fact, they’d consider anything more than that to be blasphemy. Worth noting, this is the method my family uses for fried zucchini and eggplant (holy, yum) but for fried green tomatoes, I prefer to doctor them up a bit with spices and a hefty-dose of coarse-ground cornmeal. I love the texture the cornmeal provides, and the spices aren’t overwhelming, but do a good job of upping the flavor ante. It might not be 100% Southern kitchen traditional, but I’m not a Southerner, so I’m allowed to get away with such cultural bastardization. Avert your eyes, purists.
These fried green tomatoes are doctored up a bit with spices and a hefty-dose of coarse-ground cornmeal. They are the perfect way to use up your not-yet-ripe tomatoes.
4 large green (unripe) tomatoes
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup coarse-ground cornmeal
1/2 cup fine-ground cornmeal/corn flour (can sub whole wheat or all purpose flour)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
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REAL food, not changed, not doctored – fresh off the farm beats low fat, low calorie food any day. Especially when you are working as hard as you are, you need that full fat to replenish your body.
That said, these look awesome! I do the cornmeal thing on eggplant too but never thought to try it on FGT.
I think everyone has a slightly different definition of what’s healthy – and that’s okay. Like you, I’ve eaten low fat/fat free for years, but I’m slowly starting to change that. I’d rather have the regular fat version if that means there’s less chemicals in my food.
Food the way God made it is a-okay in my book. My partner has been telling me for years that full-fat milk, real butter, cheese, etc are good for you, and I am slowly trying to incorporate more of those items in my diet. Your fried green tomatoes look amazing. I live in the South. So, I’ve eaten my fair share of fried green tomatoes. I love them with hot sauce on them at breakfast with some scrambled eggs and toast on the side. I LOVE fried green tomatoes and really can eat them any way they are served.
I love this post! It is so true that each of us has to find our own healthy and what is most important is to find a healthy that can also keep us happy! These fried green tomatoes look absolutely scrumptious delicious and I cannot wait to try them. Major, major props to you for trying these different things as part of a well-rounded, healthy diet. We hear all the time that certain foods just aren’t healthy when so many of them can be a part of a truly healthy diet.
Thanks for spreading this beautiful and inspiring message (and delicious and tempting recipe!!)
I think you are beautiful. Very healthy-looking. If you want to lose a bit og weight, I would recommend that you limit dessert to fresh fruit, at least most of the time. This is easiest to do right now, in the Summer. A little change like that can make all the difference. It worked for me. However, only do what feels right for you.
I love you, I LOVE fried green tomatoes, and I adore this post. I’m aiming for a similar relationship with food… simpler, more manageable, more realistic for me. Thanks for ever more inspiration.
I find it amusing that anyone would suggest you masquerade as a healthy blogger. Healthy eating means natural foods, all of them, in moderation. It means staying away from processed foods and chemicals. It means not eliminating anything from your diet. It means you are feeding your body with nurturing foods that will help it continue to chug along for many, many years to come. Eating “diet” food is not to be equated with healthy eating. Anyone looking for that on your blog doesn’t understand you or your food (and, dare I say, life) philosophy.
I’m completely with you on focusing on the quality of food rather than the calories. Keep doing what you are doing! On the topic of fried green tomatoes, I am from the South, and my dad makes fried green tomatoes by dipping them in buttermilk then a flour/cornmeal/spice mixture and tops them with goat cheese after pan frying. I’m sure this is not completely traditional either, but my Southern family approves! Love your idea of the Sriracha yogurt topping also!
I’m sure I’ve told you this before, but you are a breath of fresh air around these HLB parts. Love your attitude towards food, love the way you choose to articulate it.
Oh, and yeah – total Yankee here. Did NOT know green tomatoes were just…not ripe. #michigan.
I agree, “healthy” is such a subjective word. Whole, natural foods are always best. And I’ve never had fried green tomatoes but I’ve always wanted to try them!
I can totally relate to your re-definition of “healthy foods.” I used to think a diet that was mostly vegan and mainly vegetarian was healthy but lately healthy has meant real and what’s realer than rich creamy butter? :)
I totally agree! I’ll often have a week where I feel like I ate crappy and then realize that every meal was made from scratch, in my kitchen, with real food and lots of veggies and healthy stuff, so why do I still feel this way? This is probably 80% healthier than the way most Americans eat so I need to just chill out and enjoy these amazing fresh foods, no matter what my “calorie intake” is. I’m excited to try out these amazing fried green tomatoes! We don’t see them much up in Massachusetts but I visited a friend in South Carolina once and we enjoyed some on a gorgeous day sitting out on the patio and so they bring back good memories!
Enjoy that full-fat ice cream and those fried green tomatoes. I think eating healthfully can go completely wrong when we feel deprived. Learning to enjoy life’s indulgences in moderation is totally the way to go!
And thank you for teaching me green tomatoes are indeed just green tomatoes. I always thought they were a special variety. I love love love the cornmeal coating you gave them!
“No way that eating real food picked just outside your kitchen and can be bad for you, even when you pan fry it in butter”
True .. may not be bad in the sense that they’ll directly be bad for your health, but eating anything in excess is probably not a good idea. As long as those high-fat foods are eaten in moderation, it should be perfectly okay!
These put a smile on my face. Can’t wait to get my hands on some green tomatoes!
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