Running out of time? Turn a dilemma into delicious!
September 2011 Update: Many thanks to all of you who have taken the time to come back and tell me how much you enjoyed this recipe! Click here to read some of the many green tomato relish rave reviews. If you'd rather have your tomatoes red, check out How To Ripen Green Tomatoes Indoors the Really Easy Way on my kitchen garden blog.
The shorter days and cooler nights of September signify a slowing down for the kitchen gardener. It's a time for reflection: on successes and failures in the garden, on the quiet winter months ahead, and on the fact that all those green tomatoes still out on the vines are never going to turn red.
If you abhor the thought of letting any of your precious garden bounty go to waste, this frightful realization may bring on all sorts of irrational behavior. Frantically struggling to cover your tomato plants with enormous tarps in gusty winds and plummeting temperatures while praying to the garden gods for a late frost is not the way to deal with green tomatoes. Making green tomato relish is.
Tastewise, unripe green tomatoes bear little resemblance to their fully ripened counterparts. They are crunchy and slightly tart and completely lacking in that unmistakable tomato flavor. But when slowly simmered on the stove, green tomatoes come into their own.
Green tomato relish is traditionally a sweet concoction, often made with raisins, ginger, cloves, and lots of sugar. Unfortunately this tends to be the type of thing that people receive in jars as holiday gifts and eventually end up throwing out because they have no idea what to do with it.
The following relish, however, is not sweet at all; in fact, it does not contain any sugar. It resembles a thick salsa but is easier to make, as green tomatoes don't even need to be peeled. Nor do the apples; all you really do is chop everything up and toss it into a pot.
This recipe also takes full advantage of the late summer/early fall harvest; red peppers, onions, garlic, and apples are all called for. Adding the cilantro and jalapenos right at the end helps them retain their bright color.
Green cilantro and jalapenos coupled with red peppers gives the relish a festive color combination that lends itself perfectly to holiday gifts—that definitely won't get tossed into the compost bin.
Relishes are quite forgiving, so don't be afraid to adapt the recipe to what your end-of-the-season garden or farmers' market has to offer. Any type of tomato can be used, and you can mix and match varieties. Paste, or plum, tomatoes will require less cooking time since they're meatier and have less juice.
A touch of red on a few of the tomatoes is fine, as long as they're still very hard. Fully ripe tomatoes, though, will give your relish a completely different flavor and consistency.
Partially green sweet red peppers can also be used, and you can adjust the amount of jalapeno peppers to suit your taste, or leave them out entirely. Other fresh hot peppers can be substituted. Leave the seeds in if you desire more heat.
Green tomato relish makes a tangy alternative to traditional salsa in quesadillas and tacos, mixed into guacamole, or as a dip with tortilla chips. It can be eaten hot, cold, or at room temperature.
Stir it into refried beans or cooked rice for an instant fiesta side dish. For a spicy burrito filling, lightly brown some ground turkey or diced chicken in a skillet, add equal parts green tomato relish and water, and simmer until thickened.
Put green tomato relish on a Monterey Jack cheeseburger in place of ketchup and pickle, or use it to liven up grilled flank steak. Mix a little into diced home-fried potatoes, or even hash, just before serving.
Green tomato relish will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator, or up to a year in the pantry if the jars are processed in a waterbath canner, which is a worthwhile and affordable investment. Canning adds very little prep time because you can set up your canning equipment during the hour the relish is simmering. (I love this inexpensive canning accessory kit.)
And as its zesty aroma fills the kitchen, you'll be secure in the knowledge that although the temperature has dropped and the wind is howling through the garden, both you and your green tomatoes are safe inside and ready for fall.
As always, I urge you to seek out locally grown and organic ingredients. If you don't have a garden full of green tomatoes, you may be able to beg some from a neighbor (many people simply let them go to waste) or ask your favorite vendor at the farmers' market to pick some especially for you.
I don't recommend using supermarket apple cider vinegar, which is often simply distilled white vinegar with caramel coloring. Instead, look for natural (preferably organic), unpasteurized and unfiltered raw apple cider vinegar with 5% acidity that contains the naturally occurring 'Mother' of vinegar.
Organic raw apple cider vinegar is amazing stuff that is rich in enzymes and potassium and has been highly regarded throughout history because of its numerous internal and external health benefits. We drink 1 to 2 Tablespoons diluted in water (with a little local raw honey added) every day and have also started giving it to our sheep (mixed 50/50 with garlic juice) as a natural wormer and overall wellness tonic.
Look for raw apple cider vinegar at natural foods stores and even some supermarkets. I really like Bragg brand, and if you can't find it locally, it's available from amazon.com here.
Farmgirl Susan's No Sugar Green Tomato Relish
Makes about 3 pints
Recipe may be doubled; increase cooking time by 10-15 minutes
**Click here to print this recipe**
2 lb. green tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 lb. white or yellow onions, chopped
3/4 lb. sweet red peppers, cored and chopped
1/2 lb. tart cooking apples, such as Granny Smith, cored and chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup 5% acidic organic raw apple cider vinegar (or less, see note below)*
1 Tablespoon kosher or sea salt
4 jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded if desired, and finely chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
Combine the tomatoes, onions, peppers, apples, garlic, vinegar, and salt in a large, nonreactive pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about an hour.
Stir in the jalapenos, cilantro, and cumin and simmer for 5 more minutes. Carefully purée the mixture using a stick immersion blender (I can't say enough good things about my KitchenAid hand blender; it's one of the best things I've bought for the kitchen) or in a traditional counter top blender, in batches if necessary, until still somewhat chunky. Don't over mix; you don't want it smooth.
If canning, return the puréed relish to a boil, then ladle the hot mixture into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Process 15 minutes in a waterbath canner. Store in a cool, dark place.
10 calories, 0g fat, 60mg sodium, 0g fiber, per Tablespoon
* October 2009 Update: Since I originally posted this recipe four years ago, many of you written to let me know how much you love it (thank you!), but a couple of people have told me that their green tomato relish ended up tasting much too strongly of vinegar.
The 1 cup of apple cider vinegar called for is to ensure that this is safe for waterbath canning (green tomatoes are acidic, but the other vegetables lower the overall acidity—1 cup is plenty), but if you're planning to store yours in the fridge—where it will keep for several weeks without processing—and are concerned it might be too much vinegar for your taste, you can safely decrease the amount of apple cider vinegar to 1/2 cup, or even less.
If you want to give jars of green tomato relish as a gift without having to process them, just make sure the recipients put the jars directly into their refrigerator.
Can't live on relish alone? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.
© FarmgirlFare.com, the not always vine-ripened foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.