A year ago this recipe would definitely have fallen into the category of ‘too weird/scary to try’. Amaranth? Isn’t that some kind of noxious weed? Halloumi? Ummm I think that’s the cheese – it is a cheese, right – my second cousin is obsessed with. Apparently it squeaks. Huh. Why would a cheese squeak? Surely that’s not normal? Let’s just say my breadth of product knowledge and consequent recipe exploration was quite narrow (and ‘safe’) prior to this year. Laugh all you want about my ignorance regarding halloumi, however I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only soul to whom amaranth was a foreign term, at least in a culinary sense. You know that little grain quinoa that’s been hogging the limelight lately (recipes of which can be found here and here)? Amaranth is like it’s shy and unassuming, but just as talented, cousin.
If you can get over the fact that amaranth smells a bit – for the want of a better word – musty when cooking, then it’s a brilliant ingredient to have up your sleeve. It works particularly well in these stuffed tomatoes and in this case I’m giving you permission to ‘mess up’ – you actually want to overcook it a bit. You’re aiming for a gloopy consistency that will bind all the other ingredients together into a nice sticky stuffing. What’s that you say? Eggs? Bah. No need for them here. Amaranth has a mild flavour and this allows that of the other ingredients to shine through, resulting in a Mediterranean-style burst of salty capers and haloumi, zesty basil and mint and creamy pistachios.
With three different sources of protein (nuts, dairy and grains), this tasty little dish refutes any claims that vegetarian meals lack sufficient protein. It’s light yet filling – you’ll be pleasantly satiated for hours afterwards. These stuffed tomatoes are versatile too – pair with roasted veg for cold wintery days or with a crisp salad if you yourself are roasting. Both work equally as well.
Attack this meal in stages and it’s a breeze to put together. Expecting company? Plan ahead – prepare the filling and hollow out the tomatoes the day before. Just before your guests arrive, fill your tomato shells, pop the cap back on and stick in the oven to let them do their thing, while you settle back and socialise. There’ll be no cause to run around like a headless chook and fewer dishes (always a bonus, right?) Just keep an eye on the tomatoes after about the thirty minute mark – they look very pretty when they hold their shape, but if over cooked they begin to collapse and ooze all over the place…now that would be reason for some wing flapping.
If you’re thinking “this girl’s a hypocrite, she goes on and on about food waste but then hollows out tomatoes and fills them with something else”, halt right there. Throw away perfectly good tomato pulp? Moi? Never. With the addition of a tablespoon or so of tomato paste (for depth of flavour), substitute it for tinned tomatoes – I made a penne puttanesca the following night. Between these Amaranth and Haloumi Stuffed Tomatoes and the dish produced from your pulpy leftovers, half your week’s meals are sorted. And be assured that I’ve already done the testing for you – amaranth is in fact edible, and not a noxious weed. Ahem. Glad we cleared that up.
Amaranth & Halloumi Stuffed Tomatoes
Makes 8 stuffed tomatoes. Serves 4 – 6.
Large pinch sea salt
50g raw shelled pistachio nuts, roughly chopped
100g halloumi cheese, cut into 0.5cm cubes
1 tbsp capers, drained
3 tbsp (about 15) pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
Large handful basil leaves, finely chopped
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
8 large tomatoes
1 lemon, cut into segments
Preheat the oven to 200C and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Tip the amaranth into a small saucepan, along with 500ml cold water. Cover, bring to the boil, then remove the lid and reduce to a simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until tender and ‘gluggy’. Once cooked, tip into a strainer and leave to sit over a bowl. This will allow any excess liquid to slowly drain out.
Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the filling by combining all remaining ingredients (bar the tomatoes and lemon) in a large bowl and mixing to combine.
Slice a 1cm thick cap off the top of each tomato and use a teaspoon to scoop out the insides – hold the tomato gently in one hand over a bowl and run the spoon around the inner edge of the tomato ‘wall’ to remove the seeds, juice and inner ‘partitions’. You should end up with a nice hollow ‘shell’.
Once the amaranth has cooled slightly, stir into the filling mixture until well combined and season with copious amounts of freshly ground black pepper.
Fill each tomato shell with the amaranth stuffing. Pack in gently with the back of your spoon. Place the caps back on each tomato and transfer to the baking sheet. Scatter the lemon segments between the tomatoes and roast for 30-40 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender. If you cook too long, they will collapse!
Best served immediately, with a salad or roasted vegetables. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and gently reheated in a low oven.
*Note: The tomatoes are best served straight away, however they will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. Simply pop in a low oven for 5-10 minutes to warm through.
Source: Adapted from the Green Kitchen Stories cookbook.