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Tomatoes! Tomatoes!! Tomatoes!!!

As any good cook will tell you, “the taste of a sauce tells how good the cook is”, the hunt to make the ultimate west African stew THE premier tomato stew is one that has been pursued by the most ardent of cooks. From the composition of the tomato, pepper, onion trio to the quantity and quality of the spice mix used, home cooks for years have been baffled. For most, making a good pot of stew is a miss or hit proposition as the art itself is not standardized. I, myself have and continue to search for the best recipe for the ultimate tomato stew and what I know for sure is the quality of your ingredients is all the difference between a ho-hum stew and a “kick in the pants” stew. The primary ingredient to consider is the tomato.Tomatoes being one of the cornerstones of African cuisine is available in different varieties and has different flavor profiles. These are the kinds of tomatoes one is likely to find in Africa

  • Roma Tomato: Probably the most widely available in Africa. The African variety is smaller than it’s western counterpart and has a highly acidic flavor.
  • Cherry tomatoes: available all over Africa, particularly in East and South Africa. Good in salad, strong tomato flavor.
  • Heirloom Tomatoes: Also referred to as the “ugly” tomato. Has great medium acidic taste but tends to sour quickly when used in stews.
Finding the right tomato is key, here are some tips to use in your quest… First, you must consider how fresh the tomato is, before using it. The peak of the tomato harvesting season is late summer to early fall ( late August-mid October). Second, consider the soil in which the tomato was grown (dark dirt vs clay) tomatoes grown in dark dirt has a flavor profile that mimics the African tomato. Third, choose tomatoes from small and preferably organic farms before the mass produced variety, believe me there is a world of difference in flavor.
I have tried several varieties of tomatoes but the best so far has been the “Tennessee tomato”. This tomato is juicy, flavorful and produces that heavy texture a proper tomato stew should have. So what is a cook to do after tomato season during the long cold winter? Have frozen pureed Tennessee tomatoes of course! So remember, the next time you go to the grocery store to pick up tomatoes, do your homework!