As a life-long Northerner, I have to admit that on the drive to my new home in Maryland from Chicago, I shuddered just a little when we crossed the Pennsylvania/Maryland border and the sign informed us we were heading south of the Mason/Dixon line.
You see, I was raised
on the mean streets of Chicago on the gentle streets of a Western suburb of Chicago by wolves by a father who was raised near Chicago and a mother raised in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan and in Minnesota. The furthest south they ever ventured was to Chicago's Midway airport to pick up relatives. For them, and me, the South was a mysterious land filled with pork cracklin', pick up trucks, and Roy Clark. They didn't really get Southern culture or cuisine, and so my childhood was devoid of okra and moon pies and sweet tea.
I'm a lot more Southern-friendly. My wife comes from the near South, and of course, being on the more equatorial proximate side of Mr. Mason's and Mr. Dixon's line has its culinary advantages. Among these is the understanding that Southern farmers have of the uses of green tomatoes. I first sampled fried green tomatoes in a bar in Atlanta. I was there for a business trip and the attraction of such a strange sounding dish was too much to resist. They arrived with a little marinara sauce and after a bite or two, I was hooked.
This last weekend, I was at a farmer's market near the Annapolis DMV, and I spied a beautiful batch of large hard green tomatoes. Of course I bought some, or I wouldn't be writing this post now. I asked the farmer to pick me out a good box and got four large specimens, which we enjoyed this last week.
I'd never tried preparing fried green tomatoes before, but I had an idea of what was necessary. And luckily, this week, I have the help of Southern resident Rosalind (my mother-in-law) and her friend Susan in the preparation of this dish. Many tomatoes were dipped and many edamame beans shelled through their assistance.
Why edamame succotash? My wife hates lima beans and this needed a veggie relish of some sort. Favas or edamame in succotash are a good substitute for those who hate hate HATE lima beans.
I hope y'all will try this simple Southern classic. We served it with a version of our very own creamy red pepper soup.
4 large green tomatoes
2 cups corn meal
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup buttermilk
vegetable oil for frying (quantity varies, depending on skillet width)
1 1/4 cups shelled edamame beans
2 ears of corn
1 red bell pepper
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup your favorite marinara sauce
About thirty minutes before you're going to cook the tomatoes, slice them into 1/4" rounds and salt lightly on both sides. Place on paper towels and let some of the moisture drain out of them.
Put a big pot of water on to boil. Shuck the corn, retaining one or two pale green leaves from the husk. Place the leaves and corn in the water once it boils and cook for ten minutes. When it's done, stand your corn up in the center of a large bowl and cut the kernels off the cob with a sharp chef's knife.
While the corn boils, dice your red bell pepper into 1/4 inch pieces, about the size of a large corn kernel.
Combine the edamame, chopped bell pepper, and corn with the butter, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper and set aside in a microwave-safe bowl.
Pour enough light vegetable oil in a largish skillet to make it 1/4" or so deep. Use corn oil or peanut oil if you want to give the dish additional flavor notes. Turn the heat on to medium-high and let the oil heat.
Next, set up a shallow pie plate with the corn meal, garlic powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Pour the buttermilk in another bowl (one bigger than the tomato slices).
Have a large plate ready to receive the tomato slices. Dip a slice in buttermilk. Let most of the milk drain off, then dip the wet tomato slice in the cornmeal mix, covering it on both sides. Shake the excess off, and place on the receiving plate. Repeat until all the slices are prepped for frying.
Take a few grains of cornmeal to test the oil's temperature. If you hear a sizzle when you drop them in, the oil is ready.
NOW FOR PETE'S SAKE, BE CAREFUL. Frying can be dangerous if you're not smart about it. Don't let any small children of the "pull-the-pan-down-on-themselves" variety get too close to the stove (always good advice, but especially around hot oil), and beware spatters yourself. And of course, always have a fire extinguisher ready in case things get out of hand.
Also, wear protective clothing. Frying in the nude is not just dangerous and painful, it's aso a little gross. (*Spatter*-OW! What? Ewwww.)
Carefully place each slice of tomato into the frying pan. Don't overcrowd the pan. The slices shoudl not be touching. Fry for about 90 seconds on one side until it begins to take on a little brown color, then carefully turn the slice with a pair of tongs and put the unfried side face down. Fry for another 90 seconds or so (or longer if your oil isn't quite as hot) until that side too takes on color. Remove to a plate covered in paper towels to blot a little of the oil off.
If your pan is small, and your tomato slice plentiful, you may want to put a plate in the oven at about 150F and transfer the fried and drained slices to that plate to keep them warm.
Repeat the frying with the rest of the tomatoes. As you get close to finishing, place the microwave safe bowl of succotash into the microwave and nuke on high for about 90 seconds to warm through. Remove and place the marinara sauce in the microwave. Cover with a paper towel and nuke for about a minute or so on high until the sauce is hot.
Place 1/4 of the tomato slices partially on top of each other on four plates. Stir the succotash and taste for seasoning. After adjusting, spoon the succotash over the slices of tomato. On either side of the row of slice, spoon marinara sauce.
The sweet ripe red tomato in the marinara complements the sour and salty fried green tomato, which has been made soft enough to eat by the heat of the oil. The succotash, even with the butter, adds a little interest and freshness to the meal. Even the most inveterate Yankee (like,er.. me) will enjoy this bit of the South.