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Almost-Healthy Tomato Salad-Toasts

Monday, April 26, 2010

This weekend I was visiting my parents in the suburbs of Boston, where the grass is greener, and the air mostly smells of spring, and much less of the city garbage, where the sun is hot on your back and the earth breathes easily under the feet of children and farmers' ploughs.
This means that mama and I got to cook together, in the same kitchen for once. My addition to Saturday's dinner was a plate of fresh but very satisfying salad-toasts, inspired by a few recipes, including Italian bruschetta, and borrowing from the combination of sweet tomato and acid lemon that mama used in the Lazy Tomato Salad.
The only caveat is that these toasts have to be eaten immediately after preparation. Otherwise they grow cold and the bread turns soggy. So make everything else ready before you start frying the bread and assembling the salad-toasts.

What you need:
3 medium very ripe sweet tomatoes
1 spring onion
1 small basil bunch
1 tiny cilantro bunch, optional
1 poblano chili pepper (mildly hot)
0.2 lbs bacon
1 clove of garlic, optional
2 pinches of freshly ground capricorns
2 pinches of chilly powder, optional
1-2 pinches of salt
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp oil
4 slices of whole wheat bread
3 Tbsp butter
4 large thin slices of cheese (I used "Drunken Goat" cheese, since this is what my parents' fridge had, but any cheese with a strong salty flavor will work just as well, particularly goat cheeses)

How to do it:
1. The salad. Finely (about 1/8" cubes) chop tomatoes and discard most of the juice. Finely chop onions, hot pepper, basil, cilantro, and place everything into a bowl. Add oil, spices, salt, lemon juice. Taste and make sure that the balance of spiciness, saltiness, acidity and sweetness is to your liking, but do not oversalt - bacon & cheese are also quite salty.
2. Bacon. Very finely chop garlic. Place it and finely sliced bacon into a non-stick pan and turn on medium heat. As the toast is being prepared, keep an eye on the bacon, stirring it until it starts to get brown around the edges. Then remove from heat.
3. Toasts. While the bacon is frying, prepare toast. In similar recipes, the bread is fried in butter, which causes it to soak up a lot of fat. This is unhealthy and can cause heartburn. Yet many of us would agree that butter makes things taste good. Here is a trick to use just a little bit of butter when frying the bread. First, place an empty dry non-stick pan on high heat and put the slices of bread into it when it starts to get hot. Adjust the heat so that the bread is toasting but not burning on the dry hot surface. When the pan-facing side of the bread is toasted, spread butter on the untoasted side of the bread and turn the slices over. The other side will fry handsomly in butter, but the bread will not be soaked through with it.
4. Assembly. When the buttery side is fried golden, remove the toasts from the pan and place them on a plate, buttery side up (this way hands won't get oily when the toasts are consumed). Immediately place a slice of cheese on every toast. Mix bacon with the salad and arrange a quarter of the salad on top of every toast. Optionally, sprinkle with more
pepper of any kind and serve warm!

Canned sardines, preserved in water or oil, can be substituted for fried bacon and will save you the trouble of washing an extra frying pan as well as a few grams of saturated fat. If using sardines, you may need a bit more salt and spices.

If the tomatoes are not very ripe or not sweet enough, this can be remedied by adding a pinch of sugar or 1/2 a teaspoon of maple syrup (preferably grade B, which is not as sickly sweet as the regular kind). Adding too much sweetness will ruin the dish, so be careful.

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