When I was in Italy not long ago, the tomatoes were so incredibly fresh and sweet, that I looked forward to finding tomatoes like that at home in Los Angeles. Now that it’s summer, it’s the perfect time to look for tomatoes at local farmers markets to see what’s organic, fresh and in season. I am always drawn to the variety of tomatoes that are available in the summer. The flavor is nothing like those pale, sad things you see in the supermarket in February. During the summer I’m inspired to use tomatoes in just about everything from appetizers and salads to satisfying main courses.
Tomatoes are very good sources of lycopene, which is an effective antioxidant. Lycopene is in the carotenoid family, which includes beta-carotene, lutein (good for eye health) and zeanthin. A red pigment, lycopene is commonly found in other red-hued fruits and vegetables and is associated with prostate health. A Harvard study of 47,000 men published in 1995 by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that those who ate ten servings or more per week of tomatoes, tomato sauce, pizza sauce and tomato juice had 45 percent fewer prostate cancers than those who ate only two servings per week. There is also evidence that lycopene in tomatoes helps protect against other types of cancer including lung, stomach, colorectal and esophageal. The anti-cancer properties of lycopene are increased by consuming foods with healthy fats such as nuts, olive oil and avocados. The reason is that carotenoids are fat-soluble and to maximize absorption, they should be eaten with a little fat. Summer tomato and avocado salad drizzled with extra virgin olive oil anyone?
Lycopene has been shown to contribute to heart health by reducing oxidative damage and has also been associated with reducing blood pressure. Tomatoes have an extremely low glycemic index, so eating them is good for helping to regulate blood sugar levels. A one cup serving of raw tomatoes contains almost 33 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin C, biotin, hard to get vitamin K (15 percent), potassium, manganese and vitamin A.
I once visited the Chino Ranch near San Diego, CA, an amazing produce stand that counts Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters as customers. I counted 14 varieties of tomatoes including green striped, red-orange striped and pink fuzzy ones. From bite-size to sandwich-size, red, yellow, or “black,” modern or old-fashioned, there is a tomato for every taste. Go out there and find your favorites!
One of mine is a great Pico de Gallo sauce that you can use in recipes, to top off tortillas, or as a dip with chips. I like to put my recipe over my Mexican Chicken Lettuce Cups. Both recipes are featured in my new cookbook, The AGE BEAUTIFULLY Cookbook, but I’d like to share my Pico de Gallo sauce in time for any July 4th entertaining you may be planning this weekend.
Pico de Gallo
Yields 2 cups
I like to prepare this condiment in different ways: chunky when scattering over my Mexican Lettuce Wraps, and smooth as a dip for my Flaxseed Tortillas. In addition to all of the age-defying and healthy benefits of tomatoes, the indoles (sulfur compounds) in onions help neutralize carcinogens. Cilantro is a good source of vitamin K, which helps keep your bones strong.
2 cups diced Roma tomatoes
¼ cup minced red onion
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup fresh lemon or lime juice
1 Tbs. minced jalapeno, seedless
Salt or salt substitute and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Fold all the ingredients in a bowl. Allow to sit for at least 10 minutes so the flavors can marry.
Chef’s Note: For a chunky salsa, simply toss the ingredients together. For a dipping sauce or salsa that you can drizzle, blend the ingredients for about 30 seconds.