Editor’s Note: The CNN Original Series “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico” journeys across the country’s many vibrant regions to reveal its unique and colorful cuisines. The series airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT Sundays.
One of the world’s most popular fruits has an unexpected history. And no, we are not talking about bananas or apples, but the most forgotten fruit: tomatoes.
Of course, this plant has played a central role in Italian cuisine, starring in dishes as varied as pizza, pasta al pomodoro and lasagna, but we should thank Mexico for this versatile staple’s popularity.
Originally an Aztec plant called “tomatl,” the tomato was domesticated in what’s now Mexico as early as 700, according to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. The Spanish conquistadors brought the fruit to Europe in the early 16th century.
Unfortunately, the fruit got the nickname “poison apple” when it was believed some Europeans died after eating tomatoes. At the time, wealthy people dined on pewter plates high in lead content, and the acidity of the fruit caused the metal to leach, resulting in lead poisoning.
While initially feared in Europe, tomatoes have been consumed for thousands of years in the Americas.
Oaxaca in southwest Mexico has been perfecting the plump fruit for generations — passing down the seeds. The region’s varied altitude and climate make the produce extraordinary.
When tomatoes are in season, there are up to 23 varieties in Oaxaca, said rising star chef Thalía Barrios García in an episode of the CNN Original Series “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico.”
García has made this hometown ingredient the star of one of her signature dishes. You can find García’s delicious cuisine at her hip restaurants, La Cocina de Humo and Levadura de Olla, in Oaxaca City.
Her Oaxacan-style heirloom tomato salad features an array of fresh, juicy tomatoes native to the region atop a beet puree. A drizzling of wild mint vinaigrette completes the dish.
“Look at this! Is that not the most beautiful combination of tomatoes you’ve ever seen?” Eva Longoria said as she looked at the dish when visiting Barrios García for the docuseries.
“The sweetness of this bright purple beet puree balances the tomatoes’ acidity,” Longoria said. “I think this is like the perfect dish.”
Oaxacan-Style Heirloom Tomato Salad
Chef Thalia Barrios García uses a variety of tomatoes and a wild mint called pennyroyal from her region, but you can recreate this refreshing salad with peak-season heirloom tomatoes and mint from your local farmer’s market.
Makes 2 servings
1¾ cups | 50 grams fresh mint leaves, divided
3½ ounces | 100 milliliters fruit vinegar, such as strawberry vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1⅓ cups | 300 milliliters extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon | 5 grams coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2¼ pounds| 1 kilogram medium beets (about 6 or 7)
2 teaspoons| 10 grams coarse sea salt, plus more for the pot
¾ cup | 150 milliliters extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon | 3 grams freshly ground black pepper
0.8 pounds | 350 grams heirloom tomatoes, such as Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and Sun Gold, thinly sliced
1 medium tomatillo (35 grams or 1 ounce)
Freshly ground black pepper and coarse sea salt to taste
1. Prepare mint-infused vinegar: Rinse the mint leaves and gently pat dry between two paper towels. Lightly crush 2 teaspoons (or 1.2 grams) mint leaves to release their flavor and place in the Mason jar. Pour the vinegar over the mint, cover the jar with plastic wrap so the vinegar will not react with the metal, then seal the lid. Let sit at room temperature in a dark place for 1 hour and strain.
2. In a bowl, combine the mint-infused vinegar with the remaining mint, olive oil, 1 teaspoon (or 5 grams) salt and pepper to taste and whisk to emulsify.
3. Prepare the beet puree: Rinse and scrub the beets under cold water and trim the beet greens, leaving 1 inch (or 2½ centimeters) of the stem. Boil the beets in a large pot of salted water until they are easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, drain into a colander and let cool. Hold a paper towel in your hand to avoid staining, rub and pull back the skin of each beet to remove it. Cut the beets into ½-inch (or 1¼- centimeter) cubes, so they’re easy to blend.
4. Place the beets, olive oil, 1 teaspoon (or 3 grams) pepper and 2 teaspoons (or 10 grams) salt into a blender. Process until smooth, stopping to scrape the sides with a silicone spatula, about 40 seconds.
5. Assemble the salad: Using a silicone spatula, spread the beet puree on a serving plate.
6. Arrange the tomato slices on top. Drizzle over the vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
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