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 and 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) 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, 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.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Prep Time: 10 minutes | Cook Time: 15 minutes | Makes: About 6 servings
- 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 egg
- 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
- Slice tomatoes into 1/4″ slices using a sharp knife, discarding the stem end. Arrange slices in one layer onto paper towels, sprinkle with salt and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a shallow container (I use pie pans) mix together the flour, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and oregano. In a second shallow container, whisk together the milk and egg. In a third shallow container, mix together the two corn meals.
- Melt butter and heat oil a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- To begin frying tomatoes, dip each slice in the flour mixture, tapping off the excess, then the egg mixture, and then finally, press into the cornmeal mixture until well-coated on all sides. Place tomato slice into the heated pan. Immediately, the slice should start sizzling. If it doesn’t, remove the slice and let the pan heat up more and then try again. Repeat with as many slices as you can fit in the pan, without crowding them (leave about an inch between slices).
- Cook over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes or until the tomatoes are golden brown on one side. Flip and continue to cook on the other side for 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining tomato slices. Top with salt and pepper (if desired) and serve with your favorite condiment—corn relish, hot sauce and remoulade are all great options.
Serving Size: About 3 slices | Servings Per Recipe: About 6