Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
Easy to make, beautiful to look at, and great to eat!
Bulgarian-born, Kentucky-living poet Katerina Stoykova-Klemer says, “Tomatoes bring love.” In my case, it’s even more so because most of the tomatoes I eat come home with Tammie from Tamchop Farm. This “recipe” is my attempt to share a bit of how that love can shine through a quick bit of super tasty home cooking. The dish brings together some of my all-time favorite foods! Ripe in-season heirloom tomatoes, hand-rolled M’hamsa Couscous and Traditional Harissa from the Mahjoub family in Tunisia, and fresh in-season local vegetables. It looks great, and it’s not all that much work. You can serve these Couscous-Stuffed Tomatoes hot out of the oven, or also at room temperature for a picnic in the park!
To make Couscous-Stuffed Tomatoes, get one good-sized ripe heirloom tomato per person (or two if you’re really hungry). They’re so great this time of year! We only get good tomatoes around these parts for about eight weeks, so I like to take full advantage. I wrote about Les Moulins de Mahjoub in “A Taste of Zingerman’s Food Philosophy”—they are one of those wonderful suppliers we work with who share our values on nearly every level! The couscous from the Mahjoub’s is so good that it changed my beliefs about what couscous could be. Made from the family’s own organic wheat, milled on their farm, hand-rolled into traditional couscous, and then dried—as it all was up until 100-150 years ago—in the sun, it is truly remarkable. Cooking the M’hamsa couscous couldn’t be much easier—just follow the simple instructions on the jar and it only takes like 12 minutes. (FYI, the glass jar keeps the couscous from getting crushed in transit.) Even with just a bit of olive oil and sea salt, it’s super terrific.
While you’re cooking the couscous, chop whatever fresh vegetables you have on hand into small- to medium-sized chunks and sauté them gently in good olive oil until they’re tender (Tammie and I love the Mahjoub’s oil—we use it in three-liter tins). Tammie brought home the amazing Serbian Elephant Ear peppers she grows along with some super tasty Korean heirloom squash she’s growing for Ji Hye at Miss Kim, so that’s what I did the dish with.
Cut the top off of a good-sized heirloom tomato. With a spoon or a sharp knife, cut out the inside flesh and set the hollowed-out tomatoes aside. Drain off any extra juice (I just drink it!) and chop the tomato flesh fine. Put it in a mixing bowl. Add the soft, sautéed fresh vegetables.
When the couscous is done (it should have no water left in the pan—if there is water left, drain it), check for salt levels and adjust as needed. Pour on a small bit of olive oil and toss. Add the cooked vegetables and also, if you like, some chopped fresh herbs. I used fresh mint. Add some toasted pine nuts if you like as well. Mix everything, check for seasoning, then spoon the mixture into the hollowed-out tomatoes. Cook them in a 350°F oven. Put a bit of olive oil on a baking dish so the tomatoes don’t stick. Pack the tomatoes gently in the pan and bake for about 30-40 minutes until the tomato is nicely cooked and everything is piping hot.
On the plate, put a nice dollop of the Mahjoub’s harissa next to each tomato. I like a lot of it, but you can obviously opt for what’s right for you. The harissa meets our definition (described in detail in the new Food Philosophy pamphlet) of quality beautifully—full flavored (complex, well balanced, and with a lovely long finish) and also totally traditional. Tomatoes and three peppers grown on the farm organically, sun-dried; olive oil from their farm; and some herbs and spices. It is so, so, good! If everyone you’re dining with likes spicy food, you can also just mix the harissa right into the couscous mixture. Add bits of tuna, chicken, or chopped ham, if you like as well.
Should you want to take the Couscous-Stuffed Tomatoes to a picnic, you can eat them at room temperature, as-is, without the baking. And if you’re doing them cold that way, you can also consider adding some yogurt and/or more harissa to the mix. Either way, they’re an excellent taste of Michigan tomatoes and the south Mediterranean in one easy-to-make later summer meal!