Nothing symbolizes summertime bliss quite like homegrown tomatoes. For at least two hundred years however, this member of the nightshade family was regarded as potentially lethal and grown strictly as an ornamental. The stalks and leaves are indeed toxic. But the untimely deaths of wealthy people once attributed to consumption of the tomato were caused not by the plant itself but by the lead in pewter serving dishes that tended to leach upon contact with the highly acidic fruit! Thank goodness we know today that the berries of Solanum lycopersicum are to be celebrated rather than feared. Tomatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin C, potassium, folate, Vitamin K and the antioxidant lycopene (linked to many health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.) To top it all off this beautiful food is also bursting with ‘umami’.
The word ‘umami’ is a derivative of the Japanese term for deliciousness. Commonly referred to as the ‘fifth taste’ (following sweet, sour, bitter and salty) umami results from the high glutamate content in certain foods. It makes them savoury and deeply flavorful. Besides tomatoes (and mushrooms, red wine, fermented vegetables, nutritional yeast, soy sauce, potatoes and more in the realm of plant foods) umami is also associated with many animal products. So for folks transitioning to a plant-based diet it’s helpful to understand that perceived ‘cravings’ for meat and cheese have nothing to do with a physical need to ingest those items. They may, however, have everything to do with missing the flavour experience umami provides through specialized receptor cells on the tongue. Introducing more plant-sourced umami into one’s daily diet can indeed help satiate such cravings.
The riper or more concentrated tomatoes are, the deeper their flavour profile. I could happily survive on toasted wholegrain sandwiches of garden-fresh slices with just an added pinch of sea salt and a dash of ground black pepper all season long. But my absolute favourite method of preserving the fruit for later enjoyment is through roasting slowly in a low temperature oven with lots of garlic, and a drizzle of olive oil. Simply dehydrating tomatoes is another obvious way to concentrate their appeal. Whether you grow your own garden variety, or purchase sun-dried tomatoes from the store that can be easily reconstituted, the following snack packs a highly nutritious umami punch just as popular with kids as it is with adults!
Umami Kale Chips – adapted from an original recipe in ‘Oh She Glows’!
1 or 2 large bunches of kale, ribs removed
30 grams organic sun-dried (soaked) or 15 grams roasted tomatoes
1 C. raw organic cashews (soaked) OR sunflower seeds
1/4 of a whole organic red pepper
2 large cloves of garlic
2 tsp. olive oil (*unless using tomatoes already packed in oil)
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 C. of the soaking water if used for reconstituting dried tomatoes
2 – 4 T. fresh chopped basil
2 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. nutritional yeast (more to taste)
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1.) In one bowl, soak your tomatoes if necessary (roasted or sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil won’t require soaking), and in another bowl soak your cashews – both for at least 1.5 hours.
2.) After soaking, reserve the tomato soaking water and set aside.
3.) Drain and rinse the cashews (or sunflower seeds)
4.) In a food processor, with the machine running, drop in the garlic and process until minced.
5.) Add in the rest of the ingredients except the salt. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as required.
6.) Add salt slowly to taste.
7.) Wash the kale leaves and tear into pieces, discarding the stems.
8.) Dry the leaves in a salad spinner or pat dry with a dish towel. It is important to remove as much moisture as possible or your seasoning mix won’t adhere well to the leaves.
9.) Pour the sauce over the kale, stir well, and massage in any excess until well coated.
10.) Season once again with sea salt as necessary.
11.) Spread the leaves carefully on your trays and dry in a dehydrator for at least 12 hours at approximately 110 F. If you use cookie trays and an oven rather than a dehydrator line your trays with parchment paper, and check more often to make sure that you remove leaves that have already become adequately crisp. Start this process in the morning with the oven on the lowest temperature possible with the door cracked, and they may be done in a very short period of time… so keep your eye on them. Sometimes moving them around or flipping is helpful for even drying. Cool briefly and secure right away in an airtight container (if you can resist eating them all at once that is!)