Discovered initially as a wild plant in Peru, tomato was grown by the Inca and the Aztec civilizations in 700 (A.C.) and was brought to Europe by the Spanish sailor, Cortez without a clue to what lied ahead for it.
It’s called, ‘’lycopersion esculentum’’ in Latin. Lycopersicon comes from the Greek root, Lycos, which means ‘wolf’, percison means ‘peach’ and esculentum means ‘edible’. This is where the term ‘wolf-peach’ which is another name used for tomato comes from.
Off to Europe
Although this fruit’s (it really is a fruit by the way!) story began in Middle America, I had assumed its origin to be Europe, probably because I am so fond of Spanish and Italian cuisines. Europe was introduced to tomatoes in 1519 when the Spanish sailor Cortez brought its seeds back to Spain, from his journey to the Montezuma region of Costa Rica. The Spanish Botanist, Pietro Andrea Mattioli of the renaissance era named tomato, ‘pomi d’oro’ which means ‘golden apple’ because then tomatoes were generally yellow in color. Then the French named it ‘pommes d’amour’ which means the apple of love. Nevertheless, when the French botanist Tournefort announced that it contained a toxic ingredient, its consumption stopped immediately. Wouldn’t you agree that this was an unfair judgement upon tomato? It became quite controversial during this period whether tomatoes were good for you or not. Finally it was concluded that the unripe tomato contains a trace of tomatin and there for it was unhealthy to consume green tomatoes.
Fortunately by now we know that it is beneficial in fighting against various diseases including cancer and hepatitis, due to its high content of Vitamin A and lycopene.
The fact behind its transformation into a vegetable
Although tomato is cultivated and consumed as a vegetable, botanically speaking, it is actually a fruit. None the less, since it was highly consumed in the US, in 1893 the American Supreme Court decided to categorize it as a vegetable upon discovering that the exporters took advantage of fruit taxes being higher than the vegetable taxes.
Whenever I step into the kitchen trying to decide what to cook for that day, tomato never fails to be the first ingredient that comes to my mind.
If you also want to start your day with tomato, cut some Tulum cheese into slices and put it in a pan and place over high heat for 3-4 minutes until the cheese melts. Grate two ripe tomatoes, pour over the cheese and cook for 6-7 minutes. Voila! You have a duo that will enrich your breakfast.
I had learned from Hasan at Alacati farmers market that the trick to maintain the taste of tomatoes is to keep them at room temperature. Also I was warned by a chemist friend to never cook tomatoes in any aluminum gear because some toxic reaction occurs between the two.
Now is the time to give you an Aegean salad recipe:
Izmir Tulum* cheese and crispy Gevrek *salad
2 ripe farm grown tomatoes
50 gr Tulum cheese
½ Gevrek (simit)
2 red bell peppers
½ bunch of parsley
8-10 leaves basil
10-15 green olives-sliced
1 spring oninon
30 ml lemon juice (2 tablespoons)
45 ml olive oil (3 tablespoons)
-Slice the gevrek into thin circles and bake for 15 minutes in the oven preheated to 150 C
-Take them out and leave to cool
-Wash the tomatoes and peppers and cut into small squares
-Coarsely chop the greens and place in a salad bowl, adding all the remaining ingredients. Put the gevrek on top, then pour the sauce over
**Istanbul residents can luckily find these simit croutons ready made in many simit bakeries around Bagdat street.
The ones who live elsewhere can buy 5-6 simits at a time and spend a little time to make their own and these croutons will last at least for 2 months in the freezer.
*Tulum is a local, firm, full fat cheese
*Gevrek is a traditional, round sesame bread like a thinner, larger version of a bagel