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Versatile And Nutritious Tomatoes – for Sep. 2, 2010

Whether you enjoy plum, grape, cherry, slicing or any of the other tomato types, these members of the nightshade family are highly versatile and nutritious.

As we were enjoying some fresh salsa in my home the other day, one of my kids posed the typical question: “Is a tomato a vegetable or a fruit?”

If we think like botanists, we would call a tomato a fruit or a “true berry” of the plant. In the nutrition field, though, tomatoes are considered vegetables because of the way they are used on menus.

If we think back in history, until the 19th century, the tomato was considered poisonous. Now we know that tomatoes are good sources of potassium and vitamin C and A, while containing few calories. One medium tomato has just 25 calories.

Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant compound. Lycopene is the pigment responsible for giving tomatoes their orange-red appearance, and this compound may play a role in protecting us from diseases, including cancer.

If you have prolific tomato plants this year, consider some different ways to prepare them. Homemade spaghetti sauce, salsa and grilled kabobs certainly are tasty, but try some other ideas, too.

Make some cool soup, such as gazpacho, (pronounced guhspah- choh).

Slice tomatoes and top the slices with crushed seasoned bread crumbs and shredded cheddar cheese or another cheese of your choice. Top with chopped fresh or dried herbs, such as basil or oregano. Broil until the cheese melts for a tasty side dish.

Add some thinly sliced tomatoes to pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches or panini sandwiches. Sprinkle with some chopped fresh herbs for extra-flavour pizzazz.

Marinate tomato wedges and cucumber slices in your favourite zesty salad dressing and serve as a side salad.

Stuff tomatoes with tuna salad or chicken salad and use the insides of the tomatoes to add nutrition to the salad.

Along with multiple uses on your menu, tomatoes can be canned, frozen or dried to enjoy this winter. Wouldn’t homemade tomato juice, spaghetti sauce or chili made with homegrown canned tomatoes taste good next January?

If you choose to can tomatoes or salsa, be sure to add the recommended amount of lemon juice so they reach a safe acidity level.

– Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD., L. R. D., is a North Dakota

State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor

in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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