It’s Meat Free Monday and we’re looking at one of my favourite fruits, the humble tomato. It’s also British tomato week and so we’re celebrating by cooking a tomato and okra stew. The tomato is the fruit/berry of Solanum copersicum, a plant from the nightshade family, commonly called a tomato plant. The species originated in the Americas.
Although it is botanically a fruit, it is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes (as well as under U.S. customs regulations. Tomato plants typically grow to 1–3 meters (3–10 ft) in height, but they have a weak stem that often sprawls over the ground or twists itself over other plants. It is a perennial in its native habitat, but in temperate climates it is an annual.
By 500 BC, it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico and the Aztecs, in particular, grew it. The Pueblo people believed that anyone who witnessed tomato seeds being eaten were blessed with powers of divination.
The Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, may have been the first to transport the tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, in 1521, although Christopher Columbus may have taken them back as early as 1493. It was only in 1554 that tomatoes were named by Mattioli as pomi d’oro, or “golden apple”. After the colonisation of the Americas, the Spanish distributed the tomato throughout their colonies in the Caribbean. They also took it to the Philippines, from where it spread to southeast Asia and then the entire Asian continent. The Spanish also brought the tomato to Europe. It grew easily in Mediterranean climates, and cultivation began in the 1540s. Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s and the first mention of them in British North America is in 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in what is today South Carolina.
- 1 Kg Okra
- 2 large banana shallots, finely chopped
- 4 tomatoes, chopped
- 120 ml white wine vinegar
- 80 ml of extra virgin olive oil
- A large squeeze of tomato purée
- A large handful of freshly chopped parsley
- A handful of fresh oregano
- 4s of garlic minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the okra topping and tailing then washing it. Strain the okra then strew with the vinegar and salt coating them all. Leave them for 20 minutes, this prevents them from becoming slimy. Heat up the oil in a sauté pan. Drain the okra, quickly rinse them and then add them to the pan and sauté them. Remove the okra and set to one side. Next add the garlic, onion and herbs into the pan and then sauté them until are tender. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée diluted in a little hot water, Check for seasoning. Bring to boil and return the okra to the pan. After a couple of minutes reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 25 minutes. Stir occasionally. Serve with rice.