At last, after weird weather delays, we reach the season of standing in the garden and sampling tomatoes right off the clean, astringent-scented plants that dye our skin chartreuse. Try it barefoot, touching the earth, eyes closed. Banish the winter of picked-green, gas-ripened, crunchy disappointments. Each tomato variety now packs a unique, sweet-acid balance, full of vibrant solar energy. Purple, pear-shaped Indigo Rose is sassy, while Black Cherry is practically savory, and the dense Italian varietal bursts with classic flavor that causes a flashback to childhood sandwiches eaten at picnic table by the lake. Some, like the tangy sungolds, rarely make it into the kitchen. I’ve been picking for a half hour, but my bowl is practically empty.
If you hate tomatoes, apply this scenario to plums, peaches or berries. But the bliss is genuine, exquisitely simple, and every cell in your body knows it is real, powerful food.
Lately, we live in a culture that devours the unreal, “alternative facts”, baseless opinions, and attention-hungry exaggerations. Politics aside, if you are trying to verify health food information, this environment boggles the mind. Rare Siberian frisée kale will save your life!!!! All protein diet reduces fat and cures cancer!!! You’ve been eating tofu all wrong!!! The excessive exclamation points and sensational claims are dizzying. And the more serious our health issues, the more these dubious promises make us vulnerable. How do we know what is REAL?
First, who is your information source? Are they qualified experts or just selling you an exclusive and expensive new formula? Do they cite legitimate research? I’m not in the laboratory observing how anthocyanins and lycopene affect cancer cells, but when several researchers find cancer-fighting value in tomatoes, then I respectfully trust it is useful info.
Not all confirmation comes from a laboratory. Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and Traditional Indigenous Knowledge incorporate thousands of years of trial and error. In the ancient cities of Mexico such as Tenochtitlán, healers prescribed remedies with the condition that the patient had to report whether it worked. Results were recorded in Codices (that the Spanish tried to burn as witchcraft.) This is empirical study, science, not lore.
Many health-supporting foods that are tried and true traditions hold real value. Grandma eats nopal cactus for diabetes. Sounds weird. But probably her abuelita told her, because Mexican people have used this for centuries to counter the colonists’ diet. Does this guarantee it will work for you? Of course not. But it has worked for generations.
We must also consider the risk of harm, even though whole foods retain nature’s buffers to mitigate side effects. For example, grapefruit can conflict with some medications. Red grapes and red wine have wonderful nutrients, but if you have diabetes, they aren’t really your friends. This is where it’s a good idea to ask your doctor and/or pharmacist.
My hope is that, when you come across super-foods and trendy diets, you suspend belief or disbelief and research them. Listen to your common sense and your body’s responses. Let’s be open to information that can help, enjoy the optimism boost from finding new options to try, but let’s also keep it as real as summer tomatoes.
Speaking of “tried and true” and keeping it real, I have THE gazpacho recipe from a friend from Seville in southern Spain, a flamboyant artist who is deeply attached to his hometown’s festivals, arts and food. He was adamant about the ingredients and the order of things required to make it authentic. NO “inventing” other “new and improved” versions or vegetarian Gazpacho, because it already is. The important thing, according to Nazario, is to add white stuff, green stuff, then red stuff. So I’ve been faithfully following his instructions for the last 25 years, because, well, why mess with a classic from a land with sweltering summers? (Of course, you can adjust garlic, onion and vinegar amounts to your preferred taste.) It’s hard to improve on something simple and real, refreshing and energizing, that can awaken a heat-stifled appetite and doesn’t heat up the kitchen.
1 thick slice of day-old French bread, torn into chunks (folks with diabetes or gluten intolerance can skip this)
1-5 cloves garlic
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups cold water
1 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
8 large tomatoes – peeled, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup wine vinegar
Put the bread, garlic, onion and salt in a blender and add a bit of water to wet the bread. Pulse the mixture so it chops, not too fine.
Add the cucumber, green pepper and olive oil. Pulse again.
Add tomatoes, and finally vinegar. Blend to desired consistency.
Adjust water, vinegar and salt to taste.