Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Some Like It (Extra) Hot

A lot of people cringe and crinkle their nose at the sight of green tomatoes. The truth is they're not very common outside of the American south, and most people I know have never even tried them, so it's no wonder people are perplexed at the sight of them. I can't tell you how many times a summer I'm asked by fellow farmer's market dwellers how the heck I plan on using the green tomatoes I'm buying. While sometimes the answer is in pastas, sauces or salsas, I can more often than not be found frying them in the classic southern manner. While not a true southerner myself, I grew up far enough south that they popped up on menus from time to time, always wrapped in a crunchy cornmeal blanket, seasoned to perfection with salt, heaps of black pepper and a pinch of cayenne.

While I have fond memories of that classic version, these days I find myself growing increasingly attracted to spice. I'm not a full blown chili-head yet—proper balance and seasoning are still paramount in the food I find enjoyable—but I must admit that as my palate has expanded over the years, I've found added heat to be a compelling component of full-flavored food. That's partly why, as I've made fried green tomatoes over the years, they've become increasingly spicy with each batch. It started with a pinch of cayenne, then the addition of spicy smoked paprika, and finally it led to a topping of sriracha, that perfectly balanced tomato based Asian hot sauce. I knew I could crank up the heat because of what was inside—tart, firm tomatoes with a substantial bit of acidity—the perfect foil for anything spicy.

The only thing missing was sweetness, which came in the form of a raw corn relish. It's been a great year for corn here in the Northeast, with truly sweet and juicy kernels that barely need any doctoring. I cut my corn off the cob and tossed it with extra virgin olive oil, lime juice and honey, along with some finely chopped cilantro. I threw in some super sweet orange cherry tomatoes and it was done—no real cooking necessary. Then I served each plate with a stack of fried tomatoes, a swirl of sriracha and a big pile of the corn relish. It's a great summertime appetizer and a great dinner for one. The relish leftovers would even make a great sauteed side dish (that that I would know, because I took to mine with a spoon and finished the would-be leftovers immediately).

Spicy Fried Green Tomatoes With Fresh Corn Relish

3 large green tomatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon spicy smoked paprika
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons water
canola, vegetable or your favorite light oil

Corn Relish
2 corn cobs, husked, kernels cut off of cob
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lime
1/2 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
ten cherry tomatoes, halved
black pepper

1. Combine the corn kernels, extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, honey, cilantro and tomatoes in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir well to combine. Set aside.

2. Season green tomatoes with salt and set aside. Combine cornmeal, flour, cayenne, paprika and black pepper in a large, deep bowl. Whisk eggs and water together in another bowl. Dredge each green tomato slice in egg, then in the cornmeal mixture.

3. Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a non-stick skillet. Add green tomatoes and cook until golden and crisp on both sides. Remove tomatoes to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Serve tomatoes stacked two at a time and top with sriracha and a spoonful of the corn relish. Enjoy!


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