- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

With free-trade agreements in effect and fruit and vegetable transport more sophisticated than ever, we can easily get produce from another hemisphere when it’s not in season here.

Fine, but some things are sacred. I draw the line at tomatoes.

Tomatoes ripened on the vine and in the sun are not the same as those ripened any other way. Tomatoes grown locally and picked yesterday or today are like nothing else called tomatoes.

Luckily, the season is generous compared with, say, blackberries. With each passing week of their season, they seem to acquire different characteristics — all of them good, to my experience. Two weeks ago, they were probably firmer and more tart.

In just a few weeks, there will be only a few left, and they will run the gamut from barely ripe (all the better to pickle them or fry them for breakfast in a thick, crisp cornmeal coating) to almost overripe (better to eat them plain with the juices dripping down our chins).

Even though fresh, ripe tomatoes are perfect simply cut in chunks and eaten, sometimes a recipe is a good idea because you bought too many at the farmers market. Or you picked too many from your garden.

Or maybe you just want to take advantage of the fact that ripe tomatoes have several culinary soul mates. I’m talking about sweet red onion, garlic, cucumber, fresh savory herbs, olives, olive oil and feta cheese. I think I just gave you most of the recipe for Bulgarian tomato salad.

Toss it all together, and serve it at room temperature. This is a perfect summer lunch with plenty of crusty artisan bread to mop up the juices. All you’ll need to complete the meal is a bowl of fresh peaches. In season, of course.

Bulgarian tomato salad

6 medium-size, perfectly ripe tomatoes

½ cup thinly sliced red onion

1 medium clove garlic

1 small (very sweet) yellow or orange bell pepper

1 small cucumber, peeled, if necessary, and seeded and minced

1/3 pound Greek or Bulgarian feta, crumbled

1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram or oregano

3 tablespoons minced fresh mint leaves

12 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt, optional

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh crusty bread

Slice tomatoes in half; squeeze out and discard the seeds. Cut tomatoes into 1-inch chunks and transfer to a medium-large bowl. Add red onion, garlic, bell pepper, cucumber, feta, marjoram or oregano, mint, olives, olive oil, and red wine vinegar, and toss gently until combined.

Season to taste with salt, if desired, and pepper. Serve in bowls at room temperature with fresh, crusty artisan bread to mop up the juices. (This tastes best if made up to 2 hours ahead of time, so it can sit and marinate.) Cover tightly and leave in a cool, unrefrigerated place. Makes 4 to 6 servings.


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