What do Greeks eat everyday in one form or another? Tomatoes. In the summer tomato and in the winter other tomato products such as tomato paste or tomato sauce. We add tomatoes to food almost as often as we add olive oil.
Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C, they have very few calories and most importantly they are source of the antioxidant lycopene. This antioxidant has been shown to protect from some types of cancer but also protect the heart. According to researchers from the University of Cambridge lycopene stabilized the function of the endothelium. The endothelium is a group of cells that line the inside of our blood vessels. When these cells are not functioning properly, it may lead to atherosclerosis-hardening of the arteries. The researchers found that lycopene improved the widening of the blood vessels by 53 percent, wide blood vessels is a good thing whereas narrowing of blood vessels can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
What was interesting was that this effect was noticed only in volunteers who already had heart disease but not in healthy volunteers which seems to show that lycopene works for those who need it.
So here is how to use tomatoes in the Greek diet:
In the summer
- Eat a tomato salad with at least one meal everyday. Traditionally in the summer Greeks eat a simple tomato-cucumber salad with some olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar and a sprinkle of oregano with lunch and dinner. Because tomatoes are in season in the summer, a simple salad like this tastes good and is a great accompaniment to any meal.
- Cook your summer vegetables with tomato. In the summer we make the Greek style vegetable dishes cooked in olive oil and fresh tomato (lathera). Usually the tomato is grated and cooked along with onion, olive oil and herbs.
So you often have a very tomato-rich meal especially in the summer, as not only do you have a vegetable dish cooked in tomato sauce but it is also accompanied by a tomato salad.
In the winter
The fact is that tomatoes really do not taste very good in the winter months. When I see those dreadful pale orange tomatoes in salad bars or salads, I stay away. But the good news is you can still enjoy tomatoes in another form.
- Traditionally Greeks used tomato paste in the winter to “redden” their dishes. Today we can use canned chopped tomatoes or whole tomatoes. Look for ones with no added salt. These products are good source of lycopene and when heated and cooked with olive oil lycopene becomes even more available for the body to absorb.
- All sorts of winter vegetables are cooked with tomato such cauliflower, spinach, leeks as well as meat like the reddened chicken (kotopulo kokinisto).