I’ve been told I’m lucky I can enjoy Jersey tomatoes every summer. Before I came to live in America, I enjoyed Filipino-grown tomatoes, especially those planted by my dad in our backyard and used them for cooking a multitude of recipes.
At first, I was content with any tomatoes I could find in the markets. But after I tasted the legendary Jersey tomatoes, I was hooked forever. Nowadays, I can hardly wait for the summer months of July to August when tomatoes are at their sweetest here in the garden state. The farm stands have marvelous, shiny, bright red globes gleaming brightly and waiting to be brought home. What do I do with them, you wonder? I cook them in Filipino dishes like the pinakbet or sinigang, use them in fresh salads with mangoes or salted eggs, slip them in a large BLT sandwich for lunch, and lately have been thinking of making tomato jam, thanks to a cousin’s coveted recipe.
What makes the Jersey tomato special? An archived New York Times article by Julia Moskin (“The Return of a Lost Jersey Tomato” July 2008 NY Times Dining & Wine) described the uniqueness of the Jersey tomato was set apart by “the memory of how tomatoes used to taste.”
It is said the memory of the Jersey tomato was so powerful that when seeds of a favorite tomato – the Ramapo, became unavailable in the late 1980s, the New Jersey state gardeners began a letter-writing campaign demanding that Rutgers University in New Brunswick bring it back. What resulted later on was amazing for all Jersey tomato fans. Rutgers then started a project of retrieving fragile seeds from a retired plant geneticist and sent them to Israel for germination. This signaled the return of the much-loved Ramapo tomato to the state.
The Jersey tomato is simply a large, round red tomato. The article further validates what we have enjoyed all along : the tomato’s taste is a perfect balance of sweet and acid.
Back in my kitchen, I looked at my huge basket of bright, red Jersey tomatoes, vine-ripened, smooth, fragrant and delectable. I knew I had just the recipe to cook with it. My friend, Diana Kuan, cookbook author and chef recently featured an easy stir fry beef and tomatoes dish on her blog “Appetite for China”. I could not resist trying it after I saw I had all the ingredients in my kitchen. What’s more, this Chinese beef with tomatoes recipe had the familiar Asian flavors Filipinos relish.
After a quick saute, stirring all the ingredients around the pan, pouring the aromatic soy-sauce and rice wine base, the skillet steamed up and and the tomatoes looked so juicy, plump and inviting nestled next to the tender beef strips. Just imagine how terrific this dish would be if you poured it on a platter of fragrant rice.
What are you waiting for? Grab some tomatoes and the beef slices. If you start now, you can have dinner ready in no time!
Chinese Beef with Jersey Tomatoes
- 1 pound beef sirloin sliced in 2-inch strips, about 1/4 inch thick ( original recipe used flank steak)
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 whole onion sliced
- 2 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 pound fresh ripe tomatoes about 4 to 5 large pieces, cut in wedges
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce for marinade
- 1 Tablespoon xiao xing rice wine (or use dry sherry) for marinade
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch for marinade
- 2 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce for sauce
- 1/2 Tablespoon toyo (soy sauce) for sauce
- 1/2 Tablespoon xiao xing rice wine for sauce; or dry sherry
- for serving: steamed jasmine white rice
- Prepare to marinate the beef strips. In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, rice wine and cornstarch. Blend till cornstarch is dispersed well. Add this mixture to the beef strips. Toss well. Cover and let marinate for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
- Separately, prepare the sauce. Mix together in small bowl : the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and rice wine. Set aside.
- Over medium high heat, in a large wok or skillet, add the cooking oil. Add the onions and garlic. Stir fry for about 30 seconds till soft and fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes to the skillet and cook for 2 to 3 minutes till slices are soft, but still quite firm. Pour the sauce to the skillet and mix well. Then add the beef slices to the same skillet. Stir fry the beef quickly for about 1 to 2 minutes or till thoroughly cooked.
- Serve hot with steamed jasmine white rice, or as the author suggested, with a plate of fried noodles.
- Cook's comments: if you do not have access to Jersey tomatoes, any fully ripened, fresh, large, red tomatoes will work just as well for this recipe.
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