I don’t have much of a green thumb. In fact, I think if my thumb were a color, it’d be a sickly ash brown, mottled with spots and covered with voracious aphids. All of the plants in my apartment are in various stages of death – it’s like they’re living, but unwillingly. Is it because I go for too long without watering them and then overwater in an effusive shower of liquid affection? Maybe. Is it because I’ve put the sun-seeking plants in the shadows and the shadow creepers right on the window sill? Could be. Not even the cactus is thriving. And that’s saying something.
Alongside waking up with the sun every morning and reading the New York Times on my balcony with a cup of coffee, growing plants and gardening is something I’ve always associated with being grown up. I have no balcony, I live in a country where even the weekend NYT edition costs over 25 euros, and there is no sunshine in Berlin between the months of September and May. How am I supposed to be a grown up? All I have left of my childhood vision of what being an adult is, is that cup of coffee slowly chilling on top of a stack of taxes and bills I have to pay myself.
This summer, I decided to take my future into my own hands and do some urban gardening. I may not have had a balcony, but I did have a French balcony (a euphemism for a long window) with a planter full of dirt. So I planted tomatoes. I started them from seed in tiny cardboard cups on a cake plate in front of the window. I watered them every evening and watched as gentle sprouts peeked out of the dirt and sweetly unfurled their furry little leaves.
For a while, I forgot I didn’t have a green thumb.
And then they got stuck. My miraculous baby tomatoes refused to grow any more. I fretted. Did they need more water? Less? Should I have played more Beethoven early on in their development cycle?
By the time I figured out they were telling me they were ready to leave their cardboard cups and move outside, it was too late. Many of my darlings were withered, sadly shriveled and stubbornly turning a choked-looking shade of purple. But I tried my luck with three of the healthiest-looking plants, and tenderly set them up in the window planter.
And they grew! Slowly, but surely, their stalks thickened and reached up, searching for sunlight and sky. And then there were sweet yellow flowers! And then, wonder of wonders – the smallest green buds, little plumping pearls.
But our reputations catch up with us. The weather took a sharp turn, and the plants I’d planted just a bit too late every step of the way decided they were done growing. Week after week, the pretty baubles stayed green.
With frost on the horizon, I had to make a choice: try to wait a few more days for maybe just a blush of red – or pluck them now and eat them green.
Growing up isn’t always the way we imagine it’s going to be. My tiny tomatoes may have had dreams of being big, ripe red fruits gushing with that verdant, peppery aroma fresh tomatoes effuse. Though no less lovely, their future held a different fate.
I sliced the green tomatoes into thick rings, coated them in cayenne-spiced flour and egg, then crisp cornmeal and breadcrumbs and fried them in hot oil until golden. Inside their crunchy, crackling shells, my little green tomatoes were soft, warm, and fragrant – as if all that beautiful tomato smell were concentrated in each flavor-burst packet. Drizzled with Sriracha remoulade, it really wasn’t a bad way to grow up.
Fried Green Tomatoes with Sriracha Remoulade
Fried green tomatoes are relatively simple to make. There are just a few tricks to making them really great: Make sure to use a heavy skillet – I used a small copper skillet which fit no more than four rounds at a time – and don’t overcrowd it. That way, the oil stays hot and the tomatoes don’t get soggy.
For the remoulade:
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. Sriracha
1 small garlic clove, minced (about ¼ tsp.)
1 tbsp. finely-chopped cornichons
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. finely-diced tarragon
1 tsp. finely-diced chives
1 tsp. finely-diced parsley
Salt & pepper, to taste
For the tomatoes:
4 small, firm green tomatoes
Salt, to taste
½ cup flour
Dash of cayenne pepper
¼ cup milk
¼ cup cornmeal
¼ cup breadcrumbs
To make the remoulade, whisk mayonnaise, with Sriracha, garlic, cornichons, red wine vinegar, Dijon, tarragon, chives, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Slice tomatoes into ca. ¼-inch rounds, discarding the very top and very bottom piece. Lightly salt the tomatoes and set aside as you prepare the frying station. Make sure to have everything prepared before you begin: Once you start frying, it goes fast.
Set out three shallow dishes: In the first, stir together flour and cayenne pepper. In the second, whisk together egg and milk. In the third, stir together cornmeal and breadcrumbs.
Pour enough vegetable oil into a skillet to cover the bottom (you want to oil to reach about halfway up the side of each tomato slice). Turn the heat all the way up to get your oil hot, but if it starts smoking, turn the heat down just a bit. (Also bear in mind, I’m cooking on an old unit; if you have a new stove or cook with gas, you may need to adjust the heat accordingly.)
Take a tomato round and coat it in flour. Dip it into the egg mixture until completely coated, then coat it in the breadcrumb mixture. Repeat with next three rounds.
Making sure the oil is hot, drop the tomato rounds into the oil and cook until the breadcrumbs turn golden-brown, a little less than a minute per side. Watch carefully; they burn quickly. Flip the rounds and cook until the other side is golden brown as well. Remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel.
Repeat with remaining tomato slices, cooking in batches of four.
Serve hot with remoulade.