Today was my first attempt at making stuffed tomatoes. I wasn’t planning on it. Its Thursday and I have used up most of my groceries from shopping last weekend. Some spinach has been languishing in the back of my fridge and every time I have opened the fridge in the past few days I felt guilty at the thought of wasting perfectly good spinach. But the amount was too little to make a good daal out of it and I continued to stall on how to use it. These ruby red tomatoes finally inspired me. Suddenly all those itty bitty amounts of vegetables found a cause. The line-up for this baked tomato dish now included – the spinach, a piece of red bell pepper wrapped in plastic wrap, the last 1/2 cup of frozen corn, some fragrant stalks of cilantro. I wanted to add something to make it more substantial and after looking for ideas online, decided on quinoa in favor of its protein content and non-grain status. Some leftover cheese made its way in too, as a topping. If you are making the vegan version of this dish, leave the cheese out.
And so this dish came about. Of course, I could not leave the pulp and juice that resulted from hollowing the tomatoes, so I chopped those up and cooked them into this delicious sauce. I think the flavor enhancers for the sauce are a pinch of sugar, a pinch of ground cumin and lots of black pepper.
When you make this dish don’t be too caught up with the exact ingredient list I have here. Use what you have on hand, stray away and you will create something unique that you will love. Some ideas are – cooked grains or seeds (barley, quinoa, buckwheat), combination of finely chopped vegetables, herbs, cheese, bread crumbs, corn, black beans. Just be sure to salt and drain your tomatoes. Also ensure the filling is on the dry side and is not mushy. Remember dry filling just means low moisture; the olive oil in the recipe will give it a pleasing unctuous-ness that is very satisfying. The goal is to have a tomato that still holds its shape through the cooking time and a filling whose ingredients are discernible in texture and flavor.
Serves 6, as a side dish Ingredients: 1/2 cup quinoa 1 cup water 6 vine ripened tomatoes 2 tbsps olive oil + 1 tbsp for drizzling over tomatoes before baking 2 cloves garlic, sliced 1 cup loosely chopped spinach 1/4 cup chopped cilantro 1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels 1/2 tsp ground cumin salt and pepper to taste 1/3 cup grated pepper jack cheese (leave out for vegan version) Sauce: pulp and juice from hollowing tomatoes 1 tbsp olive oil pinch of sugar salt, pepper to taste 1 tbsp chopped cilantro pinch of ground cumin Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a small saucepan, add quinoa and water, stir to mix and bring to a slow boil. Reduce temperature to low, cover and let simmer slowly until quinoa is cooked and water is evaporated. Remove the lid and allow to cool completely. Prepare tomatoes - slice off the tops of the tomatoes, stalk intact. Save the tops. Using a melon baller, carefully scoop out the seeds and pulp from inside the tomatoes. Save all the pulp and juice to make a sauce later. You should have a neatly emptied tomato cup at the end of this exercise. Sprinkle about 1/4 tsp salt in the cavity of each tomato, and invert it on a plate or rack. The salt draws out any excess moisture in the tomatoes that could cause the baked tomatoes to be soggy. By inverting the tomato cups, you are draining out the liquid and the salt. While the tomatoes are draining, in a pan on medium heat, combine 2 tbsps olive oil and sliced garlic. When the garlic is lightly browned around the edges, add the chopped spinach to it. Cook the spinach until it is dark green and the moisture has evaporated. Follow with cilantro, red bell pepper and corn kernels. Stir the mixture for a few more minutes. Fold in the cooked quinoa and combine well. Add ground cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Allow the quinoa mixture to cool for about 30 minutes before you stuff the tomatoes. Divide the quinoa mixture equally among the six tomatoes. Place the stuffed tomatoes in a baking dish. Place the caps beside each tomato. Drizzle 1 tbsp olive oil over the tops and crack extra black pepper on each top. Bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven, place grated cheese on each tomato and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until the cheese has melted and lightly browned. Make the sauce while the tomatoes are baking. Roughly chop up the pulp from tomatoes, combine with the juice. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan on medium heat. Add all of the juice and pulp mixture to the pan. Add a pinch of sugar to balance out the acidity in the juice and let reduce for about 15 minutes, stirring often. Towards the end of cooking time, fold in finely chopped fresh cilantro and season with salt, lots of black pepper and a pinch of cumin powder. Serve the stuffed tomatoes warm or at room temperature as a side dish, in a puddle of the sauce.