In the midst of two non-stop years of plowing through graduate school, I recently did something wild. After my latest semester of classes wrapped, I got a book from the library — and I read for pleasure. A fun book. A book I didn't have to cite, study or even really understand. It was amazing.
In my literary bliss, I recognized the giddy feeling my college-aged daughters experience as they joyfully devour fiction while discovering authors and entire genres through TikTok. Books and food go together like Proust and madelines or Maurice Sendak and chicken soup with rice. And so, in a literary mood one morning at the farmer's market, I picked up some green tomatoes and did what I knew I had to do.
Because I haven't read Fannie Flagg's LGBTQ classic "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" in several years, I can't speak to how well it's aged. I do, however, know the title alone is enough to make readers hungry for diner classics of the American South, such as smothered pork, buttered okra and spoonbread. And of course, fried green tomatoes. Coated in flour and cornmeal, green tomatoes hold their shape better than their melty red siblings, yet they're still juicy to the bite. In other words, they're a cheap, humble dish that tastes like a million bucks.
Riding high on the success of the Oscar-nominated film adaptation of her novel, Flagg released a cookbook of recipes in 1995, which was inspired by the real-life Alabama cafe that had been her muse. "A pitcher of sweet iced tea and a plate of fried green tomatoes turned out to be a delightfully tasty and light summer supper on nights when it was so hot you didn't feel like having a heavy meal," she wrote nostalgically, before divulging not one, not two but three unique preparations for the dish.
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Tonight, grab some sliced ham and coleslaw from the deli counter, make some sweet tea and let what is typically an appetizer or side dish be the crunchy star of the show. Dinner will be ready in 15 minutes, which leaves you all the more time to curl up with a good book later.
Recipe: Classic, Crunchy Fried Green Tomatoes
Inspired by Real Simple's Sarah Quesenberry and Fannie Flagg's Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 pound firm green tomatoes
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Line a large sheet pan with parchment. Slice the tomatoes about 1/2-inch thick. Gently blot the slices on both sides with paper towels and reserve them on the pan. This helps avoid sogginess.
Place the flour, cornmeal and eggs in 3 separate pie plates or shallow bowls.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
While the oil is heating, dip the tomatoes first in the flour, then in the eggs, then in the cornmeal, making sure each slice is well coated.
- Working in batches, fry the tomato slices until golden, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer the fried slices back to the pan as you go along.
Season with salt and pepper and serve hot with hot sauce, ranch dressing, spicy mayo or whatever else you like.
For maximum crunch, I use coarse cornmeal.
More of our favorite tomato recipes:
- The perfect michelada demands restraint
- The saucy tomato bread I've thought about every day for 16 years
- A 3-ingredient recipe for the butteriest no-cook tomato sauce ever
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