Friday, August 16th, 2013

Stuffed Tomatoes with Bulgur, Almonds, Capers & Herbs

Serving punch in watermelon bowls, clam chowder in bread loaf bowls, grilled beef in lettuce cups -- who doesn't love edible vessels? They can elevate humble-looking dishes to eye-catching hors ...

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Serving punch in watermelon bowls, clam chowder in bread loaf bowls, grilled beef in lettuce cups — who doesn’t love edible vessels? They can elevate humble-looking dishes to eye-catching hors d’oeuvres, but they’re not always the most practical, no-fuss solutions. Here, it just made sense: I was making a chunky, whole grain salad, and instead of chopping tomatoes to toss in it, I stuffed the ripe fruits to the brim.

Nah, these stuffed tomatoes aren’t baked. Ripe tomatoes at the height of their local growing season are too tasty to pass up serving raw. Just a sprinkle of salt and some glistening olive oil, and summer tomatoes are ready for serving. But if you’re not too keen on that slushy, seedy mess in the slices, this recipe is for you. Here, they’re repurposed for a savory, paste-like mixture to build flavor in the grain salad.

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IMG_6698cutting off “lids” and scooping out the tomato “guts”

Meaty heirloom and beefsteak tomatoes with less pulp are great for slicing and staying intact, but they’re not necessary for this dish, and actually get in the way of scooping out the tomato “guts.” I’m not sure what tomato cultivar I’ve used for these, since they came in from my CSA. But they seemed a bit oozy; guiding a paring knife around the insides of each to loosen the fleshy walls, the watery seeds were scraped out easily.

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IMG_6706chopped onion and tomato guts are slowly cooked down to a paste

Rather than fresh onion and tomato chunks in the grain salad, I cooked both these down so that barely any liquid remained. It’ll take a while over low heat and with much stirring toward the end, but it’s well worth it for the condensed, intense flavor it’ll add.

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IMG_6711chopped almonds, capers, onion-tomato mixture, lemon juice and olive oil are tossed with cooked bulgur

Some toasted almonds were chopped up for texture; I love how the oil soaks into these morsels once they’re tossed in the salad. Going with a Southern Italian theme, some capers added piquant bites throughout the mix.

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I’m not sure how you’re supposed to eat a stuffed tomato, especially when it’s not baked but kept fresh. But I just picked mine up and sort of ate it like a peach. It held together surprisingly well. Cooked bulgur really packs in there, like most any cooked grain. Copious olive oil in the salad helps make it stick together, too. I think these stuffed tomatoes would make a great brown-bag lunch to make ahead, especially if you place back on the tomato stem “lid” parts and wrap them up. This dish is way too cute.

I’m going to pet bunnies and koalas now.

Stuffed Tomatoes with Bulgur, Almonds, Capers & Herbs
(makes 4 pieces)

1 cup uncooked bulgur (or substitute with quinoa, brown rice, couscous or any whole grain)
4 medium-sized firm, ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup or so almonds
1 small-medium onion
1-2 tablespoons capers
juice of half a lemon
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
generous handfuls fresh basil and/or parsley, chopped

Combine the bulgur with 1 1/2 cups water in a small pot along with a couple pinches of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, or until liquid is fully absorbed. Stir and keep uncovered to cool and dry out.

Using a paring knife, cut around the stems of each tomato to create a wide hole at their tops. Guide the knife around the insides of the edges of the hole to loosen the flesh. Get in there with a spoon and scrape out the seeds and flesh from the insides of the tomatoes, reserving them in a bowl.

Heat a saucepan over medium-low and add the almonds. Toss the pan occasionally to lightly toast the almonds for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a cutting board to cool.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan and add the chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, about 3-4 minutes. Chop up the reserved tomato guts and add them to the onions. Cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the pan is almost completely dry (but keep stirring more toward the end to prevent burning). Remove from heat and let cool.

Chop the almonds. Fluff the cooled bulgur, breaking up any chunks. Stir in the tomato-onion mixture, chopped almonds, capers, lemon juice, a couple tablespoons olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the chopped herbs, reserving a handful for garnish. Scoop up the bulgur salad with spoons and pack them into each hollowed tomato. Top with herbs and serve. Can be made up to 2 days before enjoying.

Cost Calculator
(for 4 pieces, or 2 large servings)

1 cup bulgur: $0.50
4 tomatoes (from CSA): $2.50
1/2 cup almonds: $2.00
1 onion (from spring onion bunch from CSA): $0.50
1/2 lemon: $0.20
4-5 tablespoons olive oil: $0.50
handful herbs (homegrown): $0.50

Total: $6.70

Health Factor

Two brownie points: Exuberantly healthy. How’s that for an enticing party snack? This whole grain-based dish has lots of fiber and protein from the bulgur, a cracked whole wheat product, and more plant-based protein from the almonds. Using lots of herbs will help boost the vitamins, already abundant from the generous portion of Vitamin C-rich tomatoes and lemon juice, too.

Green Factor

Eight maple leaves: I cobbled together a few things from my CSA and a pantry-staple grain, which stores all year round (bulgur). You can try it out with any number of vegetables and grains on hand, too — chopped sweet peppers and corn, spelt berries and farro.

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