Last week, before heading to our last Cub Scout camp out of the school year, I bought a big pack of Roma tomatoes. When we got home yesterday from the camp out, our neighbor–who is single and lives alone and frequently shops at a farmer’s produce stand–brought over three gargantuan tomatoes for us. She frequently drops by with these excess tomatoes, claiming she just can’t eat them all before they go bad, knowing that we eat a lot of vegetables.
So, I need to use up some tomatoes. I’m pondering tomato sandwiches on my homemade sourdough bread, with lots of mayo. But that will use only a few, so now it’s on to meal planning and cooking.
I like to make homemade chili, and when I do, I typically don’t use canned tomatoes. I’m concerned about the BPA in the lining of the cans, so I puree fresh tomatoes in my miniature blender and then dump them into my pot with browned ground beef.
Some may argue that the flavor is not the same, and I imagine it isn’t. These tomatoes haven’t been peeled and cooked before being added to the chili. But they simmer in the pot with the meat and homemade broth that I add, along with cumin and salt, garlic and other spices. Then I grab the sugar bowl–that otherwise gets used only when my husband adds sugar to his coffee–and add a couple of teaspoons to the mixture. In a dish that I cook that contains tomatoes, I usually add a little sugar. I heard that somewhere–that the acid of the tomatoes begs for a bit of sugar. Sometimes when I sample the mixture and think “something’s missing,” it could be because I’ve forgotten to add the sugar. So I spoon some into the pot, and the flavor of this concoction now tastes more complete. Food experts might say that adding the sugar makes the dish more complex, more layered–it adds depth.
I sometimes find myself surprised that sugar and salt don’t cancel each other out in a recipe. In baking, I know that salt needs to be added in order to activate the rising ingredient, the baking powder. But in a pot of homemade chili, or in a dish of ground beef with rice and tomatoes, I add both–some salt and some sugar. And each one doesn’t eliminate the other. In fact, they make the dish more flavorful, more beautiful, more whole.
Maybe life is a bit like that pot of chili–some parts sweet; some parts salty. And together, those parts can flavor a life that is layered and textured, deep and whole.