Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on $10/day or less.
This is the part of the show where I pretend once again that I am from the south. The even-more-ironic-than living-in-southern-Indiana part of that is that I actually learned to make fried green tomatoes when I lived in southern California. Which is one of the beautiful things about the internet.
When we lived in SoCal (also, can people older than 30 use the term "SoCal" without sounding like idiots?), we lived in the dessert where we owned a slightly ghetto condo with an itty bitty plot of garden-able land surrounding its side. Don't get me wrong--I have great memories of that small plot of land. It was there I began my life as a gardener. At least it was there that I planted the most beautiful rose of my life (purchased at a yard-sale type sale from a sweet elderly Latin man), where I learned you could grow herbs and cook with them, and where I planted a singular tomato plant which grew enormously huge and was filled to the absolute brim with tomatoes--green green tomatoes that utterly refused to ripen. I realize now that it was probably the result of the entire lawn/garden area being automatically watered every morning and night. Or because I had not plucked back the greenery of the plant, thereby allowing it to become so monstrous that it was sucking all the everything away from the fruit that needed to ripen. Or merely because my gardening stars had decided to visit different galaxies that August. Whatever the case, I had a bunch of green tomatoes--not orange-ish, not pink--but hard green tomatoes.
I am sad to say that I didn't pick them off and make a green tomato chutney or green tomato chili or green tomato pie, but cooking was nearly as new to me as gardening then, and the only association I had with green tomatoes was the title of the movie, "Fried Green Tomatoes" (a movie that, for the record, I've never even seen and for which I don't even know the plot). So I went to our trusty computer with its then, er, "trusty" dial-up internet connection and I looked up a recipe for fried green tomatoes. And I made them. And, oh mama, they were just as eye opening to me as okra would be a few years later. Those southerners, they know a thing or two about summer vegetables, ripe and otherwise.
A few tips for fried green tomatoes:
Note: Some of this stuff is a matter of personal preference, so don't be afraid to experiment.
1. Many recipes tell you to dip your slices into egg or milk/buttermilk or both before coating with the flour/cornmeal. Tonight I tried several methods and found that just frying the tomatoes with nothing wet on them worked just fine. The taste was slightly different (the ones I dipped in buttermilk were somewhat tangier), but only slightly. Still, you may wish to experiment with dipping. I myself am lazy so I think I'll be skipping the milk bath in the future.
2. I much much much prefer thinnish slices of tomato. They come out nice and crispy. Maybe I have a potato chip fettish that I don't know about. Some people online prefer the slices thick. I tried this tonight and did not like it much at all. The outside is still crispy, but (and truly I'm embarrassed to say this) there's just too much tomato on the inside and the texture contrasts--crispy outside, slightly mushy inside--were not pleasing to me in the least.
3. Many recipes call for a combination of flour, cornmeal, and bread crumbs. I believe I mentioned that I'm lazy, so you shouldn't be surprised when I say that less seemed better to me, so I skipped the bread crumbs. I do feel like the flour helps to keep the outside from falling off in the frying; otherwise I might just skip it too since the cornmeal is where the flavor is.
4. Be absolutely sure to get the tomatoes thoroughly coated in the flour/cornmeal mixture. Thoroughly. Like, if I see that the seedy middle is still uncoated, I sprinkle some of the flour/cornmeal in. I like them crispy, I say, crispy.
5. While they're cooking or just after they've come off the stove, I sprinkle more salt on them. It makes them yummier. (It is becoming clearer by the moment that I really do have a potato chip fettish.)
Fried Green Tomatoes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Cost: nearly free in the summer
(flour: .03, cornmeal: .05, oil: .08, tomatoes: .25 or free)
3 smallish green tomatoes (You want them truly green, not ready to turn to orange; they should be firm)
3 Tbsp cornmeal
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
a few dashes of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for pan-frying
Heat a skillet (I used cast iron) to medium and add the oil. I just give it a good coating ( a millimeter or two of oil). No reason to float the tomatoes in oil. Let it get hot while you slice and coat your tomatoes.
Combine flour, cornmeal, cayenne, salt and pepper. Slice tomatoes into thin slices (not paper thin, mind you, although that really might work if you, too, have an un-addressed potato chip fetish), but about 1/4 of an inch thick or less.
Put tomatoes in oil (careful you don't splash). They should sizzle just a bit, but not burn or smoke or otherwise go nuts. Cook tomato slices on one side until golden, then flip. You want them to cook slowly enough that the inside of your tomatoes gets done and crispy. It should take a couple minutes and they'll start to smell good. At that point check them and give them a flip with a fork if they're golden.
When both sides have cooked, drain on paper towels.
I think these are great served alone, but you can eat them dipped in hot sauce or mayonnaise or any kind of dip that melts your little summer heart.