Friday, May 15, 2015

Marie-Grace's Creole Tomato Salad

A tasty, quick to throw together salad featuring the best fruit.

When people ask what my favorite fruit is, I usually don't think to say tomato. Even though it's scientifically a fruit (anything with seeds is a fruit, a fact that shocked a few people I "ruined this" for), it's really hard not to think of the tomato as a vegetable because it's a lot more savory than sweet, and it's not something you'd think to eat for dessert.

But that definitely doesn't change the fact that they are delicious. Whether in sauces, salads, or just eaten by themselves, tomatoes and I have always gotten along.

As it turns out, the people in the good state of Louisiana are also fans of this tasty fruit, and have become well known for producing particularly flavorful tomatoes branded as Creole tomatoes that are so popular, they have their own festivals held in their honor. There's just one problem: the fruit known as a Creole tomato might not even really exist anymore!

Tomatoes have an interesting history. They are an American fruit, originally cultivated by early Mesoamericans and Native groups in North America, and then spread to the rest of the world after the "discovery" of the "New World" by explorers in the 1500's. While we don't have any documented proof of this, tomatoes might have shown up in Europe as soon as Columbus returned from his first voyage, making them bona fide members of the "Columbian Exchange", a phrase used to describe old and new world goods that were passed between cultures when the Europeans made contact with the Americas. While people in the Americas had been eating it for literally hundreds of years, the Europeans thought it was poisonous (the leaves and stem are, but generally only when consumed in large quantities), and thus grew it mostly as a decorative plant until people began introducing it to recipes in the late 17th and early 18th century.

Tomatoes were certainly a staple in different Creole and Cajun recipes fairly early on, but I have a spoiler for you: there is not a specific breed of tomato known as a Creole tomato the same way there's a red delicious apple, or a granny smith. There was a cultivar of tomatoes produced by a university in Louisiana back in the 1960's, but they didn't keep a stock of the seeds from this group of plants, so the identity of plants claiming to come from this particular batch is a little up in the air. The truth is that farmers just began calling their tomatoes Creole to emphasize that they were locally grown in Louisiana, not imported from somewhere else in the country. I know the 60's is a good hundred and ten years after Marie-Grace and C├ęcile's story takes place, but because tomatoes grown in the rich soil of Lousiana and the area around it have become so emblematic of Louisiana to the people who call it home thanks to their special flavor, I thought it would be fun to find a way to put the spotlight on a historic, but also modern favorite treat.

That, and I just really like tomatoes.

I like eating tomatoes raw just as much as cooked, especially in the summer time, so having a chance to make a salad that features them pretty prominently without cooking them down or serving it hot was definitely an appealing thing for me. Obviously I'm not actually using anything close to Creole tomatoes in this dish because I'm not anywhere close to that neck of the woods, but this recipe seemed like a yummy way to feature what tomatoes I did have access to, even if they're not really in season in my part of the world yet.

All you have to do is slice three tomatoes and one sweet onion thinly and begin laying them out on your serving platter in alternating layers. The onions especially should be as thin as you can get them and kept in rings.

Needless to say, this was torture for your very onion sensitive blogger here.

Next, sprinkle them with a little salt, a tablespoon of thinly sliced mint and a teaspoon of chopped chives.

Sprinkle that generously with a dressing made of four teaspoons of olive oil, four teaspoons red wine vinegar, one teaspoon Dijon mustard and 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic, and you've got yourself a tasty salad!

While this thing can be a little difficult to get off the platter and onto your plate, and definitely requires a fork and knife to be able to eat this with any amount of sophistication, I really liked it! It was a refreshing salad with a lot of fun flavor without being overly complicated or feeling really heavy and bogged down by a thick dressing or too many ingredients. It was also really quick to put together, and doesn't really need to sit around before serving it, so it's something that can be thrown together in a pinch if you need to. It also can easily be tossed on top of some greens if you're looking to flesh it out even more - we served it along with another green salad and my taste testers tossed the tomatoes and onions on top of that and reported favorable results.

Basically, this was the ideal salad for me, and I hope as your local tomatoes come into season this summer, you give this a try! I definitely think I'll be making this again. It's definitely something that feels like I should keep it in my back pocket for when I'm having company over or need to provide a dish, because it looks pretty, but really doesn't take over the top effort to make it.

Except for slicing the onions.

Time to find out where the best local tomatoes are!


  1. That looks good - I feel compelled to go out and buy some tomatoes now!

    1. Me too, I definitely want to make this again soon. :9

  2. This looks great! From a fellow tomato-lover I will definitely be trying this one :)