In Praise of Tomatoes

Nothing in this world is as delicious as a ripe, sweet, sun-kissed summer tomato. The winter, hot-house variety is pale and tasteless by comparison.

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If you can help it, don’t eat a tomato until well into May and preferably not until June has had a good chance at them.
 By July, the vendors’ carts at the outdoor markets are enticingly teeming with them. I always end up buying too many. They look so wonderful and feel so firm and smooth to the touch that I can’t resist adding another and yet another to the shopping bag.

I never liked tomatoes much until I discovered their secret: No matter what you do, never ever put them in the fridge! It completely destroys their flavor. Leave them out. Not only do they taste infinitely better, but they’ll look gorgeous sitting there on your counter. You might lose one or two to the heat, but it’s a small sacrifice to pay. If the occasional rotten tomato is going to cause you major heartache, buy less of them at a time.

Though it took Europeans a while to embrace this New World fruit, it has now become ubiquitous. It is such an integral part of Mediterranean Cuisine that I often wonder what on earth we ate before its arrival.

Think of the classic Greek salad, so beloved by foreign visitors, a gloriously refreshing combination of tomato, cucumber, onion, green pepper, olives, feta and oregano drenched in rich green olive oil. We call it the "Horiatiki," or "Village," salad and adore it with a similar sense of fervent adoration. Now imagine it without the tomato. What a depressing thought.

We have a whole array of varieties here in Greece, including the “pomodoro” of Kefalonia. Its name translates from the Italian to mean “golden apple,” as an indication of its unique yellow color. In fact, this variety is believed to have been the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean. 

Throughout the centuries, people have guessed at the properties and qualities of tomatoes. For years, the tomato was called “poma amoris” and believed to be an aphrodisiac. Nowadays, scientists conclude that lycopene, the ingredient that gives tomatoes their redness, is a powerful anti-oxidant that counteracts carcinogens.

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