The ingredient The local tomato may not always be standardised, but it's extremely tasty and cheap.
Tomato may be the most versatile vegetable
Monte Carlo, Agora, Carmelo, Noble, Grandeur… They sound like fancy cigars, but they're just a few of the varieties of the most widely grown crop in the country - the tomato. But if you're the type who by default reaches for the nice, clean, round and uniformly red Dutch imports at Spinneys, then stop right there. The local offering may not always fit the standard and sanitised shape and colour we've come to expect from our supermarket tomatoes, but it's extremely tasty and cheap. And it doesn't have a dirty great big carbon footprint.
Plus, studies have shown that tomatoes grown here are often higher in lycopene - the red carotenoid pigment that acts as an antioxidant - than most imported tomatoes. Research into whether lycopene can help to prevent cancer is ongoing, but what we do know is that processing tomatoes and cooking them increases the concentration of lycopene, which makes even your average spaghetti Bolognese a potential life saver.
It all started with the Spanish colonialists, who brought tomato plants to Europe from their American roots. The Maya people of southern Mexico ate tomatoes. And the Pueblo Native Americans had used tomatoes for generations, believing that the seeds helped people see into the future. It's debatable whether they could foresee the sheer variety of tomatoes we enjoy all over the world today, from the tiny cherry tomato to the whopping beefsteak, which can weigh up to five kilograms.
It's a good job not all tomatoes are as big as the beefsteak, as La Tomatina - the annual food-fight festival in Buñol, Spain, which involves tens of thousands of people frenziedly hurling overripe tomatoes at each other - would turn into a massacre. But why throw tomatoes at other people when it's far better to toss them in your mouth? The tomato looms large in the cuisine of the Middle East, the Levant and the Mediterranean, from grilled tomatoes with saffron rice, chopped tomatoes in Lebanese fattoush and tomato-based pasta sauces from Italy. But there's one tomato-based ingredient that no kitchen should be without - ketchup.
It's not just for slapping on to hot dogs, chips and burgers. Ketchup is a useful base for all kinds of sauces and dressings, from Thousand Island to barbecue marinades, and it can help lower cholesterol. To make your own superior and smugly self-satisfied version, take quartered UAE tomatoes, Demerara sugar, white wine vinegar, a large clove of garlic, a hefty pinch of mustard powder and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Simmer the mixture in a pan until fully reduced, purée it in a blender, sieve it straight into an airtight container and voila - delicious ketchup homemade with locally grown, lycopene-packed tomatoes. That's one in the eye for Mr Heinz.