Use only the sweetest tomatoes and serve straight away. Don’t dilly dally with these as they taste best freshly fried. 

We were lunching at a small eatery in the hillside village of Pyrgos, on the Greek island of Santorini.


I looked at the plate in front of me. These are tomato balls? I eyed them skeptically. Sitting on a plate surrounded by other little small bites were these 6 round-shaped squat fritters. How did they taste though? Everything on that plate was good except for the tomato balls. What a pity.

Disappointing. It was oily and so lacking in flavour. All I tasted was gummy flour. Not wanting to believe it could taste so bad, I ate another tomato ball. It was not good. Where were the tomatoes? How could this be? I had read ‘Tomato Balls’ would be one of the food highlights of Santorini. After all, besides being famous for its caldera views, the island is also well known for its sweet, thick-skinned cherry tomatoes. Sigh.

Cherry tomatoes were often served at ‘The Villa’, Grace Santorini where we stayed. They were good but the best tomatoes I have had on the island were actually grape tomatoes. I don’t know if they were grown locally or imported but they were sweet, sweet, sweet.

Screen shot of ‘The Villa’ taken from Grace Santorini’s website. Stay here and everything you see, the pool, extended balcony with more loungers plus even more pampering facilities are for your exclusive use. Coupled with an amazing crew who will bend over backwards to take  care of every need, you won’t want to leave.

Whenever I made the half an hour walk from the hotel at Imerovigli to Fira, the city centre, I would walk past a house that had a tiny, 3 tier shelving unit positioned strategically behind their waist high backyard gate.  On the top tier would be maybe 6 bottles of cold mineral water, the centre tier would have 2 opened punnet of grape tomatoes. As it was strawberry and cherry season, those were displayed on the last tier.

An elderly gentleman would be pottering around in the garden which was no larger than a dining room. If you caught his attention, he would break into an easy smile. I bought some tomatoes from him. The juicy looking tomatoes he sold were red with a little cap of yellow at the top. Too good looking to not eat them on the spot, I opened the bag and was about to pop one in my mouth when I heard the old man shriek and utter Greek words I obviously could not understand.

I saw his thin arm reach out for my bag of tomatoes. “Oh no,” I thought,” did I not pay him enough?”  The next thing I knew, the bag disappeared from my hand, the one tomato I was holding was taken from me and deposited back into the bag. This was getting too weird.  It just happens that the kindly gentlemen did not want me to eat the tomatoes without him rinsing them out first with bottled water. How kind. That was the best tomatoes I had on Santorini. 

The tomatoes I had bought the day before from the local grocery store were mediocre compared to what I had in the bag now. I went back to the old man on subsequent days to get more tomatoes. There’s nothing quite like munching on a bag of good tomatoes whilst heading towards a day of shopping.  And, what about ‘tomato balls’? After trying out some served at a local winery, I gave up. I am not into gummy food.

I love tomatoes so on my return home, I set out to make some ‘tomato balls’ that would actually taste like tomatoes. It had to be filled with the sweetest tomatoes and I didn’t want them gummy. I started off by frying up a batch based on the recipe taken from the Greek cookbook, Vefa’s Kitchen. It was nice but she called for salting the tomatoes for 1-2 hours and draining them. Then I had to grate the onions, salt, rub, rinse and “squeeze out excess water”. Sigh. That’s just too much to ask out of me.  Moreover, if you don’t already know, after grating and “squeezing out excess water” from onions, your fingers will be reeking of raw onions for quite sometime and your eyes will be smarting throughout.  And, why waste all the flavour from the onions?

So my recipe below is not quite an adaptation of Vefa’s but more that I was inspired by her recipe to make it quicker and easier for the home cook to dish out. Thanks Vefa!

This is the second in a series of 10 meze recipes that were inspired by my recent holiday in Greece. Click here, Greek Meze, Another Selection Of Wonderful Little Bites. For your easy reference, scroll down to the end of the post and you will find a table spread of all the 10 meze, the names of the meze and links to recipes that I have already posted.

Santorini Tomatoey Tomato Balls/Fritters

Prep: ~30 minutes 
Cook: ~10 minutes
Inactive: ~1 hour
Level: Moderately easy
Serves: ~4 as a starter or as part of a larger meze. ~2 as a filling for a vegetarian sandwich!
Oven Temperature:
Can recipe be doubled? Yes
Make ahead? Taste best served immediately.

Ingredients

12.34oz(350g) ripest tomatoes*
5.29oz(150g) onion
a handful (0.35oz)(12g) of sun-dried tomatoes not packed in oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint/spearmint
3/4 cup (3.35oz)(95g) plain/all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Olive oil for frying
* I like using grape or cherry tomatoes as compared to the larger size tomatoes, as I am more likely able to get them ripe and sweet tasting. 


Method

1. Slice tomatoes into 2. Remove seeds and pulp. To find out how I do this without getting my hands too messy, scroll down to ‘Tips’.
2. Diced them small.
3. Diced the onions as small as you can manage.
4. Use a pair of scissors to cut the sun-dried tomatoes into small pieces.
5. Place diced tomatoes, onions and sun-dried tomatoes in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and set aside for 1 hour. The vegetables will soften and there will be a little pool of liquid at the bottom.
6. Cut the spearmint or mint and mix into the mixture above.

Prepare the batter
1. Mix the flour, baking powder, black pepper, sugar and dried oregano.
2. With a wide face spoon, quickly and gently add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Do not over mix to avoid it turning gummy. It takes me less than a minute.

Let’s fry!
1. Fill up a frying pan with 0.59″(1.5cm) of olive oil. Heat up the oil to 350F(170C). At that temperature, a tiny drop of batter dropped into the oil would sizzle.
2. Drop a tablespoon of batter into the hot oil. Do not overfill with fritters as the oil temperature will drop too much and you won’t have that crispy a fritter.
3. When the edges turn brown, flip the fritter and fry for another 1.5 – 2 minutes. It takes me ~ 4 minutes to cook.

4. Drain excess oil well (on wire rack and then kitchen paper towel) before serving otherwise they will be oily.
5. Serve with a bowl of thick yogurt or Tzatziki (Greek cucumber and yogurt dip) as a dipping sauce. It makes the fritter less heavy going and absolutely refreshing. Image below, under “WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?”.

Tips

Removing tomato seeds and pulp without getting your hands too messy

I find it easiest and less of a mess to use a metal measuring spoon to scrape out the seeds and juice. Metal measuring spoons are great because they have sharper rims than ceramic measuring spoons. All you need is 2 or 3 quick scrapes and off comes the pulp and seeds. I have family members who love eating the pulp and seeds.For grape or cherry tomatoes, use a smaller, usually 1/4 teaspoon size measuring spoon as I had done (photo above). If your tomatoes are larger,  move up to a bigger size measuring spoon.

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

Tzatziki. This cooling cucumber yogurt dip is excellent with lots of things but one of the ways I like them best is paired with the Santorini Tomato Balls/Fritters!


Here’s my spread of Greek Meze!

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