- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

While sorting through old cookbooks recently, I was amazed at how often cooks added sugar to savory dishes. Vegetables were often treated in this manner, with tomatoes the food most often subjected to sweetening. Amazingly, I saw that as much as a quarter-cup of sugar was added to a single spaghetti-sauce recipe.

I’m not sure why so much sugar made its way into so many tomato dishes. Although cooks reminisce about the superiority of tomatoes 40 years ago, maybe that’s a myth. Perhaps tomatoes were flat tasting even then, or perhaps fewer fresh herbs were available. Without these seasonings to round out the character of tomato-based dishes, sugar became the obvious flavor enhancer.

Fortunately, luscious tomatoes are readily available in late summer. Every tomato variety has a distinctive taste, from spicy to herbal to honey, and each will suit a different preparation.

My childhood favorite of sliced tomatoes and mayonnaise on toasted white bread would be toast were it not for thick, juicy slices of beefsteak tomato balanced with creamy mayo. A chunky pasta sauce without Roma tomatoes would lack the necessary intense tomato essence.

When it comes to a little sweetness, nothing matches a sweet cherry tomato. You’ll find several varieties in farmers markets and some supermarkets. Some are sweet 100s, which grow in clusters and range in size from a marble to a golf ball.

There’s also the super sweet 100 and the sugarplum grape tomato for those who eat tomatoes as fruit. With so many varieties, sweet and otherwise, it’s easy to get the flavor you want without adding sugar.

The following scallop recipe calls for cherry tomatoes. Select tomatoes that are heavy for their size and not so firm that they won’t break down to pulp during cooking.

Scallops in cherry tomato sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces sea scallops

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and pepper

2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

1 jalapeno chili, minced

1 small garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 cup cooked rice

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Season scallops with cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Brown scallops in oil for 2 minutes per side. Remove. Add cherry tomatoes, chili and garlic to skillet. Cook on high for 2 to 3 minutes or until tomatoes are pulpy.

Add scallion, basil, lime juice and scallops. Cook 1 to 2 minutes. Serve over rice. Makes 2 servings.


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