Flash in the Pan 

Two step-sisters

My corn and tomato plants bonded this year. It started when I planted them together. As both plants grew, the corn stalks formed a living tomato cage and guided the tomatoes upward. I wrapped tomato arms around corn plants, and the tomatoes hung on as the corn took off.

This arrangement recalls the "three sisters," aka corn, beans and squash, a classic trio of traditional Native American crops that have been grown in close proximity for centuries. Each of the three sisters adds something to the success of the team. Beans, which have nitrogen-sequestering capabilities, fertilize the soil. Corn provides a trellis for the beans to climb. Squash shades the ground, improving water retention, blocking weeds and even thwarting pests with the prickly spines on their stems and leaves.

When it became clear how much my corn and tomatoes enjoyed each other's company, I began calling them the "two step-sisters."

But while they grow well together, corn and tomatoes aren't as perfect a match in nutritional terms as corn and beans, which together provide the complete array of amino acids necessary for a healthy diet. The combination of corn and tomatoes lacks the essential amino acid tryptophan.

But flavor-wise, corn and tomatoes go together as naturally as chips and salsa. To demonstrate this delectable fact I'll give you a recipe for a tomato stuffed with corn salad. I learned it from one of my heroes, Kim Williams, a longtime NPR commentator who died in 1986.

Kim's enthusiastic commentaries often focused on the pleasures and virtues of eating locally, seasonally and naturally, long before it was fashionable to do so. From her "spring tonic" of early-season weed salads through the huckleberry harvest of summer, the elk roasts of autumn, and the canned fruit of winter, her work is a celebration of homegrown, locally harvested food.

She also had an amusingly irreverent streak that appeals to my inner iconoclast. While dedicated to healthy eating, she was also an instinctive rebel, and embraced a lifestyle that included a moderate level of excess. This flexibility allowed her to make, practically in the same breath, seemingly disparate claims like, "If you have ever tasted bread made from whole flour milled that same day you will know what I mean when I say good bread needs no butter," and, "You just don't make fry-bread out of whole wheat flour."

"I believe in ritual," she explained, "and ritualistic eating. To use white flour and white sugar in celebration is one thing. To stuff our stomachs with it three times a day is a different matter."

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ARI LEVAUX

Kim's mojo seems to have infected my sweetheart Shorty. On most days Shorty considers mayonnaise a disgusting abomination, the very cream of Satan. Nevertheless, Shorty's been bugging me all summer to make Kim's stuffed tomato, which contains mayo. And she hasn't even insisted that I make it mayo-free.

"To stuff our stomachs with it three times a day is a different matter," Shorty says.

To make Kim Williams' corn-stuffed tomatoes you need the following:

—One ear of sweet corn for every tomato.

—One big tomato for each person. The tomato should be reasonably round and normal-shaped. (Sharing of tomatoes is not recommended, in part because nobody will want to share theirs, but also because, like a hamburger, the corn-stuffed tomato is beautiful at first, but soon degenerates into a mess that only the mess-maker will find appetizing.)

—Two tablespoons each of onion, basil, and parsley, all chopped, per tomato.

—One tablespoon mayonnaise per tomato.

Begin by carving out a lid from the top of the tomato, jack-o-lantern style, and use a spoon to scoop out the tomato's innards. Place the excavated chunks of pulp in a strainer to drain any excess water. Then chop the pulp.

Boil or steam the ears of corn until done to your liking and let them cool. Use a knife to cut off the kernels. (Alternately, you can use preserved corn.)

Mix the corn, tomato pulp, basil, parsley, onion and mayo in a bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Stuff this mixture into the tomato and replace the lid. If your tomato doesn't want to stay upright, carve a flat spot on the bottom so it won't roll away.

Keep your stuffed tomatoes in the fridge until serving time.

In the spirit of Kim's exploratory, non-dogmatic culinary approach I've modified her recipe in one key way, by adding a strip of crumbled bacon per tomato.

The theory behind this modification is twofold. In my opinion the true essence of BLT flavor is the interaction between bacon, tomato, mayo and onion (yes, a BLT must contain onion). Including the bacon allows that magic to happen. And second, the addition of animal protein plugs the tryptophan hole, making this stuffed tomato not only completely delicious, but nutritionally complete as well.

Ask Ari: Dirty diapers

Last week, in an article about baby food, I mentioned my plans to use compost-friendly gDiaper brand biodegradable diapers. Well, Missoula reader Julie Tomkins has given me a gentle and well-deserved spanking.

Dear Ari,

As a staff member in UM's environmental studies program and the owner of Nature Boy in Missoula (disclaimer: we sell cloth diapers and provide diaper service), I congratulate you, former EVSTer and friend of the environment, on your impending parenthood. But I was a little dismayed by the props for the gDiaper in your latest Flash article.

The claim of gDiaper that their product is biodegradable/flushable/compostable is contraindicated by the fact their inserts contain the same Super Absorbent Polymer present in virtually every other disposable. Super Absorbent Polymer (SAP), aka Sodium Polyacrylate, aka Super Slurper Gel, is a petroleum derived, non-biodegradable substance and a mysterious one, at that. There has been little if any research into the long-term viability or safety of its use in soil and water systems. And though gDiaper touts its "Cradle to Cradle" certification as proof their inserts are eco-friendly, there's contention that they should be put in the same place as any other disposable product—the landfill.

The debate will rage on, particularly since the disposable industry (which now includes training pants and swim diapers) holds a $7 billion-plus per year market. This will only increase with the aging of the Baby Boomers who will also require their products. I've yet to hear of a single-use product trumping a reusable one, though, so if you want to save money and resources, you might put washable inserts into those gDiaper covers (they do sell them). High efficiency washing machines, line drying and passing along your cloth inserts to others will result in a much better feeling for you as a parent than wondering what that SAP is doing in your garden.

Julie Tompkins


Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net.

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