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Prairie Fare: Tomatoes Offer Versatility and Nutrition

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
If we think back in history, until the 19th century, the tomato was considered poisonous.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I noticed the lineup of fully ripe, plump tomatoes on my countertop the other day. Someone in my house had been harvesting our garden. I went outside and saw dozens of more nearly ripe tomatoes of various sizes and shapes waiting to be plucked, prepared or preserved.

I probably should have plucked a few volunteer plants that grew from composted tomatoes from last season, I thought to myself. Tomatoes have nearly overtaken our garden, but I’m not complaining. Bountiful harvests are welcome.

Whether you enjoy plum, grape, cherry, slicing or any of the other tomato types, these members of the nightshade family are highly versatile and nutritious.

As we were enjoying some fresh salsa in my home the other day, one of my kids posed the typical question: “Is a tomato a vegetable or a fruit?”

If we think like botanists, we would call a tomato a fruit or a “true berry” of the plant. In the nutrition field, though, tomatoes are considered vegetables because of the way they are used on menus.

If we think back in history, until the 19th century, the tomato was considered poisonous. Now we know that tomatoes are good sources of potassium and vitamin C and A, while containing few calories. One medium tomato has just 25 calories.

Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant compound. Lycopene is the pigment responsible for giving tomatoes their orange-red appearance, and this compound may play a role in protecting us from diseases, including cancer.

If you have prolific tomato plants this year, consider some different ways to prepare them. Homemade spaghetti sauce, salsa and grilled kabobs certainly are tasty, but try some other ideas, too.

  • Make some cool soup, such as gazpacho, pronounced guh-spah-choh. See the recipe provided with this column.
  • Slice tomatoes and top the slices with crushed seasoned bread crumbs and shredded cheddar cheese or another cheese of your choice. Top with chopped fresh or dried herbs, such as basil or oregano. Broil until the cheese melts for a tasty side dish.
  • Add some thinly sliced tomatoes to pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches or panini sandwiches. Sprinkle with some chopped fresh herbs for extra flavor pizzazz.
  • Marinate tomato wedges and cucumber slices in your favorite zesty salad dressing and serve as a side salad.
  • Stuff tomatoes with tuna salad or chicken salad and use the insides of the tomatoes to add nutrition to the salad.

Along with multiple uses on your menu, tomatoes can be canned, frozen or dried to enjoy this winter. Wouldn’t homemade tomato juice, spaghetti sauce or chili made with home-grown canned tomatoes taste good next January?

If you choose to can tomatoes or salsa, be sure to add the recommended amount of lemon juice so they reach a safe acidity level. For more information about food preservation, visit the North Dakota State University Extension Service website at

Here’s a cool take on a soup that is perfect for an end-of-the summer menu. You can adjust the spiciness by adding more or less pepper sauce, cayenne or black pepper.

Gazpacho (Chilled Tomato Soup)

4 c. tomato juice

1/2 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 small cucumber, peeled, pared, seeded and coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

1 drop hot pepper sauce

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. black pepper

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 large tomato, finely diced

2 Tbsp. minced chives

1 lemon cut in six wedges (optional)

Put 2 cups of tomato juice and all other ingredients except diced tomato, chives and lemon wedges in a blender or food processor. Puree. Slowly add the remaining 2 cups of tomato juice to pureed mixture. Add chopped tomato and chill until serving time. Serve ice cold in bowls. Sprinkle with chopped chives and garnish with lemon wedges.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 90 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 11 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of protein and 440 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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