Discover more from Meze by Vidar Bergum
Four ways to peel tomatoes
Plus five recipes in which to use them.
In Ingredient corner, I take an in-depth look at a specific ingredient, usually with a few recipes attached.
I never used to like tomatoes. I don’t know if it was the texture or because, growing up in the Norwegian countryside in the 1990s, they were mostly bitter and flavourless. Quite frankly, I think the only people who claimed to love them at the time, were the few who’d been holidaying in the Mediterranean and were looking for opportunities to bring up the topic.
Today, of course, it’s all very different. I’ve long since fallen in love with tomatoes in all its shapes and forms (except, of course, the bitter out-of-season ones). I’ve also traded rural Norway for Istanbul, where tomatoes aren’t just an ingredient, but a way of life. The situation in Norway has improved massively, too, with excellent imports (often from Turkey!) and even some not too shabby local produce.
How to peel tomatoes
With tomato season over us in the northern hemisphere, there are many of us trying to make the most of it while it lasts. Tomatoes don’t keep long in a hot summer kitchen (don’t put them in your fridge, though), so I buy them often – and use them more often still. Usually two or three times a day.
A lot of recipes using fresh tomatoes call for skinning the tomatoes first. This is a very good idea. The skin can get in the way of the delicate texture and sweet flavour of the tomato flesh. Many recipes, especially those written by chefs, ask you to blanch the tomatoes, then put them in an ice bath before finally peeling them by hand. An excellent method for sure, but not very practical if you’re preparing just one or two tomatoes a couple of times a day.
Over the years, I’ve come across a number of other ways of peeling the tomato skin which are faster or more convenient. My chosen method depends on what I’ll be using the tomatoes for, but with the following four options, I’ve never felt the need to do it the chef-y way.
If you’re a visual person, you can see three of them in this video. (I made it a year ago, and didn’t think to add what’s now method #4).
1. Vegetable peeler
Perhaps this is obvious to you, but to me it was a complete revelation that you can peel tomatoes with a vegetable peeler. As long as your tomato isn’t very soft, it’s actually the easiest way. It’s hands down my most used method when I want chunky tomatoes, whether for salad or sauce.
Your peeler needs to be sharp, and serrated ones seem to do the best job (straight ones sometimes have trouble piercing the skin properly). I prefer Y-shaped peelers, but a sharp blade is most important.
Compared to blanching, ice-bathing and peeling you may lose a tiny bit more of the flest, but how much depends on how thick your peeler peels.
2. Box grater
Another revelation. If you halve the tomatoes (horizontally is best), you can grate the cut side on the coarse part of your box grater. You’ll get beautifully shredded tomato flesh while the skin remains in one piece – even protecting your fingers from cuts.
This is great if you’re making something jammy or juicy. They cook down quickly or add a great saucy-ness when added raw to tomato dips or salsas. If you want more texture, you can always combine this with one of the other methods.
If the tomatoes are too soft for the peeler, your most trusted kitchen knife is your best friend. It goes without saying that the knife needs to be sharp, otherwise you’ll struggle. I use this method mostly if I’m making salads, but the vegetable peeler and tomatoes are refusing to cooperate.
Simply cut the tomato into 6 or 8 wedges, then carefully slide the knife between the skin and the flesh while rolling the tomato wedge so the place you’re cutting is right on your cutting board.
The knife method takes a little longer than the peeler, but still beats the blanch & ice bath. Once you get the hang of it, it’s also the method that leaves the least waste (you’ll keep nearly 100% of the tomato flesh).
I’d never used a tweezer in the kitchen until I showed up for the photo shoot of my first book. I quickly got a pair of my own (dental ones, not the ones from the beauty aisle), but I don’t use them only for styling food photos.
If I’m cooking a chunky tomato sauce and my tomatoes are too soft to peel with method #1, I don’t bother peeling and instead cut them into large chunks. The flesh will cook down into a sauce while the skin remains unaffected. As the sauce simmers towards the finish line, I bring out the tweezer and pick out the tomato peels one by one.
Whether this actually takes less time than the blanch ice bath method, I’m not so sure, but I still find it preferable. If only because it involves fewer pots and pans and steps.
Bonus tip: Don’t bother and bring out the stick blender
More often than I’d like to admit – especially if making a quick tomato sauce – I don’t bother with any of the above. Instead, I cut the tomatoes into big chunks and give them the stick blender treatment. The resulting tomato sauce (juice?) cooks down very quickly and, because the skin is completely blitzed, still turns out smooth and delicious.
Mandatory with kebabs, this fiery chopped salad will add juiciness and flavour to any barbecues you’re having.
Purple basil is omnipresent in Turkey and I don’t know why it isn’t everywhere. It adds an aniseed-y depth of flavour that makes regular basil seem plan after. That said, if you can’t get hold of reyhan (as purple basil is called in Turkish), this will also be delicious with regular basil or another herb you favour.
Jammy but still fresh, this is a brilliant and quick way to enjoy the summer tomatoes, inspired by a recipe from the London restaurant Ducksoup. Perfect for a quick lunch.
Once you start frying chickpeas, it’s hard to go back to plain boiled ones. Especially in salads, and on a hot summer’s day, I don’t want anything else than this for dinner. The recipe was inspired by Morito restaurant in London.
🔜 Coming Friday: The best tomato salad in the world
Those aren’t my words, but those of a friend, who introduced a tomato salad as such when she took me to a white cloth restaurant in Tel Aviv many years ago. It transformed my relationship to tomatoes and, to my own delight, I’ve since managed to recreate it as I remember it. It may look simple, but it’s got so many layers of flavour each bite is a true delight.
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With very best wishes from Istanbul,