If you grow any food plants at all, it’s statistically likely you grow tomatoes. And no wonder, since few pleasures on this earth measure up to biting into a succulent, ripe homegrown tomato.
We’re hitting that heartbreaking time when tomato plants start to give up the ghost, greeting us with shriveled leaves and hard, knobby green tomatoes we know will never ripen on the vine. Bur don’t toss those green tomatoes into your compost heap. They may be green, but they are culinary gold that you can spin into a surprising variety of preparations.
Thanks in large part to the 1987 Fannie Flag novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whitlestop Café and its 1991 movie adaptation, plenty of people think there’s only one way to cook green tomatoes, if they consider cooking them at all. Breading slices of green tomato in cornmeal and pan-frying them is a classic of the Southern repertoire, but for something delightfully different, consider using your green tomatoes in one of the following ways.
Since they are firm, green tomatoes hold up well in a vinegar brine. This recipe calls for a sweet and tart brine akin to the one used for bread-and-butter pickles, but any classic brine will do. Green cherry tomatoes are especially adorable when pickled, and can be used as garnishes for various cocktails instead of olives or pickled pearl onions.
Green tomatoes don’t burst with flavor, but they do have an abundance of pectin, so you can chop them, dump them in a pot with a ton of sugar, and cook up a unique savory-sweet preserve. Aromatics like hot peppers, citrus peels, or ginger help punch up the flavor, like in this recipe from The Messy Baker. Use the final product on burgers, with cheeses, or on top of a block of softened cream cheese with crackers on the side for an instant appetizer.
I also sometimes substitute a few green tomatoes in preserve recipes calling for ripe ones, like this tomato and summer squash chutney.
Though tomatillos are in the same plant genus as gooseberries and are different botanically from tomatoes, they do perform similarly when simmered. Chop them up and add them to chunky soups or stews, such as this South Indian dish called Thakali Masiyal.
Meanwhile, if you’re averse to making jams, a quickly simmered green tomato chutney is a fantastic condiment. Bryant Terry’s basil-laced version from Vegan Soul Kitchen (you should just buy that book already, by the way) is killer.
Sliced and layered with zucchini, eggplant, herbs, and parmesan cheese, green tomatoes don’t dissolve into gloppy messes like their ripe cousins do. Try making a gratin (that’s just fancy talk for a simple casserole) with some green tomatoes. This one from Jolene George is a favorite, and perfect for late summer dining.
Tomatoes are technically a fruit, so why not? You can either use only green tomatoes, or mix them with some firm baking apples. Here’s an unusual recipe from chef Travis Milton, inspired by an entry an old Virginia cookbook. It calls for lining the pie tin with bacon fat, which is brilliant in its own right.
Who says that ripe red tomatoes should have all the fun? Green tomatoes will break you out of your red sauce rut. Dice them finely and give them a quick sauté to soften them up, then pair them with pungent ingredients like spicy dried chili flakes and savory pecorino cheese. This recipe calls for common pantry staples, so as long as you have green tomatoes on hand, you can pull it together for a fast weeknight dinner. Afterwards, go outside to take in the early evening sun setting on the horizon, and dream of the tomatoes—both red and green—to come next summer.
Sara Bir is Paste’s food editor, and the author of The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook. She is staring down a bumper crop of green tomatoes.
Photo by Baron Chandler CC BY-ND