11.26.2010

how to replace nightshades part 4: tomatoes

In my little series on how to replace nightshades, I have left the hardest for last. Tomatoes perform a variety of roles in cooking. Raw, they provide a nice firm texture and a fresh, tart flavor. Cooked, they provide thickness, acidity, sweetness, and hearty flavors for sauces, soups, curries, spreads, pasta, and countless other dishes.

Tomatoes are probably the hardest nightshade to replace for two reasons: 1.) tomato products come in so many shapes and forms that they are useful in all kinds of recipes, and 2.) they are often a substantial part of the dish they inhabit. Think about it: tomato sauce, tomato salsa, minestrone soup. Tomatoes are not just ingredients in these recipes, they are the base of these recipes. But all is not lost! When you encounter a recipe with tomato in the ingredients list, ask yourself: what is the role of the tomato in this dish? Is it acting as the dish's acid? sweetener? thickener? is it, in the case of a salad, there for texture and color more than for flavor?

Before I start discussing replacing tomatoes, I want to introduce you to your two new best friends:

Umeboshi Paste
Tamarind Concentrate
On the left, umeboshi paste. I only know the Eden brand kind, and I get it from a health food store; you may be able to find some at an Asian grocery store, or you can just order it online. Umeboshi paste is made from a tart Japanese plum that is pickled in brine and then ground to paste. It is incredibly salty, and though it looks expensive, one little tub of this will take you months to finish off (and it keeps for years in the refrigerator). Umeboshi paste provides a bit of the texture cooked or reduced tomato products provide, as well as all of the zing and near-sweetness tomatoes have. Stir a little (meaning maybe half a teaspoon) into any recipe that would otherwise have tomatoes (cooked recipes are better, but I've stirred some into mango salsas), and taste to see if you want more. Reduce the salt in the recipe by a little. If you really, really can't find it, you can use a little umeboshi vinegar (which is easier to find, but not as good a tomato replacement) in its place.

On the right, Tamarind Concentrate. I like the Laxmi brand, but you can find this in any Indian/Southeast Asian or Latin American grocery stores, or in a well-stocked grocery store's "ethnic food" section. Tamarind concentrate may also seem a little expensive, but a little goes a long way, and though you should keep it in the fridge once you open it, this too will last forever. (I have used tamarind that has sat in a fridge for about a year. The sugar in it crystalizes around the edge a little, but it was fine to eat.) It resembles molasses in appearance, but is much much tarter. It has a little sweetness to it, but is mostly sour. Any time a recipe calls for tomato paste, I use at least half tamarind paste to make up for it, because it resembles tomato paste in terms of taste in a recipe.

If you want to substitute effectively, those are essentials. Below I will list how to substitute for (most) tomato products.

Replacing Raw and/or lightly-cooked Tomatoes

For the most part, raw tomatoes are often present in recipes to help add a bit of tartness, crispness, and color. To achieve similar flavor, you can use an under-ripe mango. I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out: an underripe mango has not ripened enough to be sweet, and it has a tartness and near-sweetness reminiscent of a tomato. Sliced, the fruit's texture is also similar to a thick slice of tomato. You want a mango that has only the tiniest bit of give when you squeeze it with your fingers--it shouldn't feel soft by any means, but it shouldn't be as hard as rock. Peel it, and either slice or cube it. This is perfect for sandwiches, salsas, and cold salads. You can also ad it last-minute to stir fries, but if you cook it too long, it will become sweeter. In a cold salad (grain, pasta or vegetable), you can also substitute raw zucchini or summer squash for raw tomato. Diced it small and add a small amount (about 1 tsp per tomato replaced by zucchini) of lemon juice to the recipe. Also consider substituting or adding cucumber, which provides the same watery, crisp texture as raw tomato.

For lightly-cooked tomatoes, like the kind you might have in an English breakfast or on Eggs [Tofu] Benedict or Florentine, lightly sautee sliced or fileted zucchini in a small amount of olive oil and vinegar over high heat until it begins to soften and brown on each side.

Replacing Tomatoes in Cooking

I have some bad news for you: if a recipe calls for an entire can or more of diced, crushed, stewed, peeled, ground, or pureed tomatoes, I can't help you. One can or more of tomatoes means that they are a significant part of the recipe that you are better off looking for a different recipe. But don't give up hope; lots of dishes that call for those ingredients are also available nightshade-free. For example, though minestrone soup usually calls for diced tomatoes, I have seen recipes without any. (Search engines' "advanced search" option lets you find recipes that don't include a word [like tomato].) You can find variations on curries that call for cans of tomatoes that instead call for a little tomato paste or a single chopped tomato (both of which are easier to substitute). Be creative, and don't despair.

First and foremost, if you're anything like me, you probably miss the occasional thick pasta sauce. I have a recipe for tomato-free marinara here, and you can find many others by a simple internet search. It may seem like a lot of work, but this stuff freezes well, and will help you out if you're missing this basic comfort food. You can also buy Nomato's nightshade-free marinara, barbeque sauce, or ketchup.

Mostly, though, in cooking, you'll need to replace a couple chopped tomatoes, or 1/4 C tomato paste, or a couple tablespoons of ketchup. Remember that tomatoes are primarily in these recipes to add some tartness, a hint of sweetness, and thickening properties. This is easy! And you have a variety of options. If the chopped tomatoes are supposed to remain whole throughout the recipe and not create a sauce, like in a sauteed pasta dish, you can substitute and equal amount of zucchini for the tomato. If the chopped tomato is supposed to cook down into a paste, treat it like tomato paste in a recipe, which you can substitute with:
  • Canned pumpkin puree, butternut squash puree, or sweet potato puree. Obviously not the kind with spices in it. These thicken a recipe, and with a tiny addition of vinegar (or ume plum paste!) also provide the sweetness and acidity of a tomato.
  • Umeboshi paste. I described this above, but this is great for adding to a tomato-textured thing, with tamarind to create the perfect fake-tomato paste taste, or by itself if you're just trying to replace the taste of tomatoes (like in salsa and other sauces, or curries).
  • Tamarind Concentrate. Again, I discussed this above, but it's great for adding the zing you miss with tomatoes to a variety of recipes. It is especially good in seitan, or other recipes in which tomato paste serves as a moistener and flavor enhancer. Works especially well with umeboshi paste. Tamarind and a little sweetener of some sort is the best substitute for ketchup in recipes.
  • Molasses. Molasses have such a strong, distinctive flavor that you only want to use a tiny bit of them, unless it's for something like BBQ sauce, which benefits from the taste of molasses. Combine this with one or more of the other options in recipes where tomato paste is added as a moistener and flavor enhancer.
  • Peanut butter. I know how crazy this sounds, but in certain recipes, especially in seitan or meatloaf-imitations, peanut butter adds a nice texture and interesting depth of flavor. Plus, it acts as a thickener.
The bad news with these is that with the exception of the purees (which still need you to add a bit of vinegar), they need to be used in some combination. The good news is that you can mix and match, and you can work on your ratios according to taste (ie, if you need 3 Tbsp tomato paste, you can use 2 T tamarind, 1 T peanut butter, etc). You'll need to do some experimenting, but at least you no longer have to overlook some of your old favorites.

In the case of sundried tomatoes, I know, I miss them too (especially the oil packed ones! yum). Consider using olives in their place.

And with pizzas, while non-tomato marinara can do the trick, if you're anything like me, you'll come to a new appreciation of white pizza. And of pesto as pizza sauce.

Tomato dishes are so ubiquitous that few of us can imagine comfort food without them. But like I said above, be creative, and don't despair! Nightshade-free doesn't mean comfort-free. You have options.

One final note on avoiding tomatoes. As with peppers and potatoes, tomatoes can sneak into unexpected foods. Many fake meat products, especially veggie hot dogs, bacon, deli-style slices, and Italian-flavored sausages, use tomato paste for color and/or texture, so as always for the nightshade-free vegan, read ingredient labels carefully before buying fake meats. Sweet-and-sour sauce, many other flavorful Asian stir-fry sauces, and barbeque sauce almost always contain ketchup or tomato paste, as do most homemade seitan recipes, so check ingredient labels and be sure to ask about these things if you're at a restaurant or friend's house.

21 comments:

Ginny said... Best Blogger Tips

I am totally going to try the "tomato" sauce. I do miss it a lot and this looks good!

Végébon said... Best Blogger Tips

Avoiding nightshade doesn't seem easy, congrats for whipping up this substituton list !

Tomato Replacement said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks for the excellent article. Tomato replacement is a very interesting subject for me as I have allergies.
You can now buy a replacement for tomato cooking sauce in the UK called "Ally's No Tomato Sauce". Being allergic to tomatoes, its a godsend! The website is TomatoFree.co.uk

Michelle said... Best Blogger Tips

Very happy to read this post-great ideas!!!!

Tuckers said... Best Blogger Tips

Thank you nightshade guru.

Just found an amazing tomato-free salmon curry recipe on youtube using "Advanced Search". Just need to lose the chilli's and I'm there.

imviolin said... Best Blogger Tips

this is so helpful!
isn't tamarind is a nightshade?
thanks!

Sarah P said... Best Blogger Tips

imviolin, you're in luck--tamarind is not a nightshade!

Sara said... Best Blogger Tips

I once created a simmer sauce using cooked beets, apple cider vinegar, and a bit of oregano. It turned out great, and it provided the color, texture, and tartness that I was looking for. Not everyone likes beets though, so I have to be careful when cooking for others. (At that point I usually opt for recipes which don't use tomatoes to start with.)

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

The Nomato BBQ sauce is not nightshade-free. From their website:

Ingredients: Organic Carrots, Water, Beets, Organic Onions, Cider Vinegar, Molasses, Brown Sugar, Kosher Salt, Onion*, Garlic*, Ginger*, Mustard*, Chili*, Cayenne Pepper* (*dry).

Chili and Cayenne Pepper are nightshades.

SarahB said... Best Blogger Tips

wow thank you for this, really helpful!! Funnily enough, on the nightshade free diet I have already started using some of these ingredients more without realising why!

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

This article is much appreciated! I just made lentil sloppy joes without the 2 cans of tomatoes or any of your substitution ideas and they weren't so moist...
I will give your ideas a try and hope to have some more comfort back in my food!

Ericka H said... Best Blogger Tips

3 medium beets
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree
1-3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1-2 Tbsp Italian seasoning, if desired
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
water

Cook beets until tender (45-60 min). Skin them, and then puree in food processor.
Pour pureed beets into saucepan.

Mix in pumpkin puree, cider vinegar, and seasonings to taste.

Add water to desired consistency.
Simmer 20 minutes, or as long as desired. Add more water as needed.
Use immersion blender to make smooth, if desired.

Ericka H said... Best Blogger Tips

Ooops! I forgot to say that I made this sauce up last night with things I had on hand. The resulting sauce was used for a recipe that called for 2 (28oz) cans of crushed tomatoes, along with leeks and sausage. Turned out to be much like an Italian spaghetti sauce. It was good, albeit fairly sweet. I think next time I'll add some rhubarb to cut down the sweet a bit. Kids and hubby all approved. :)

Sarah P said... Best Blogger Tips

@Ericka H That sounds fantastic! A replacement for a whole can of tomatoes, I'm impressed! I never would think to add rhubarb; let me know how that turns out!

Jessica George said... Best Blogger Tips

Stumbled upon your cite today HOORAY!!
I also have a nightshade allergy.
Being part of a large Italian family kinda puts a damper on my dinnertime :(

Out of pure necessity and a ton of trial and error. I have come up with a Mean Nightshade Free Marinara Sauce, that even our 102 year old Italian granny enjoys.

We start by bringing to boil a large pot of pealed and sliced carrots in water.
Boil the carrots until they are mush
Strain out the water (this gets rid of the sugary sweetness that carrots bring to the table.)
Replace the water with your favorite Nightshade free broth. (adds savoriness to the sauce.)
Bring back to a boil, and toss into a blender and blend to desired consistency.
Once i have the consistency i like i put it back on the stove to simmer.
Season with the Italian spice staples, Oregano, Basil, garlic, onions... etc
I prefer a chunky hearty sauce, so I like to add Olives, Artichoke Hearts, Mushrooms, Zucchini, and whatever else i have laying around.
Sauce turns out perfect and delicious every time.
2 problems; the whole recipe is to taste, I never use measurements :( so sorry
And Second, it doesn't have that beautiful red tomato-y color

Grandma Bonnie said... Best Blogger Tips

Tamarind is a legume and I for one, being allergic to nightshade foods including beans(legumes) of all kinds and potato will NOT eat tamarind. Licorice is a legume, rooibos used in tea blends, guargum etc. Commercial sweet potato fries are almost 100% mixed with regular white potato. Potato and soya starch is everywhere, even in meds ad fillers.
I get a shock reaction. Know your lists!

Sarah P said... Best Blogger Tips

Hi Grandma Bonnie, I think you're confusing two common intolerances. You may be intolerant to both legumes and nightshades (in which case you're right, tamarind isn't an option for you), but the two are not the same thing. Nightshades (including potatoes) are not legumes and legumes are not nightshades; there isn't any overlap in the two families of foods. I don't envy you not being able to eat nightshades or legumes; good luck!

Allie said... Best Blogger Tips

This is possibly the best thing I have ever seen on the internet. I have a nightshade intolerance but luckily love to cook so most of your substitutions for potatoes, eggplants and peppers I've used before. (although I've never heard of adding cloves in place of chili peppers...I'm definitely trying that next chance I get.)
But tomatoes are a different story and I generally just avoid them. (Mustard or mayo in place of ketchup, pesto on pasta, etc.) I've had both umeboshi and tamarind paste before and love them both but would never have thought to use them in place of tomatoes. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the great ideas!

Riana Eiren said... Best Blogger Tips

_Thank_you_ so much for this information! I've been so limited for so long because of my tomato allergy -- even wound up in the ER because of it. I've missed certain dishes for so long! I knew about Nomato, but haven't gotten to try it yet since it's not at our normal market. I've saved your post!

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

Lately, as they're in season, I've been using fresh persimmons to sub for tomatoes in salads, salsa, etc. They are actually pretty close, though sweeter. I may try a puree soon to see if it could work as a "tomato sauce." You never know till you try!

Colleen said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks! I have a roommate who's got various food allergies and I'd love to cook things she could eat, but it's not always easy. I found a great soup mix, but it calls for a can of tomatoes and I've been puzzling over what to substitute for it.