Grilled tomatoes with balsamic date sauce

It’s been a rough year for tomatoes. In fact, it’s been a rough year for basic foodstuffs in general. The extreme summer heat decimated produce and pushed down cows’ milk production, while droughts in Russia sent wheat prices soaring.

Despite the fact that produce crops in general were destroyed by the extreme July-August heat — hothouses were hitting 70 degrees Celsius — for some reason, tomatoes became the symbol of the crisis. It seems that people here just can’t live without them. As prices soared to 20 shekels a kilo, up from the usual 1-4, consumers freaked out. At one point, I even saw a market stall offering green tomatoes — a first — and for 10 shekels a kilo, too. And the tomatoes being sold for twice that didn’t look so great either. But that’s all there was.

But farmers replanted as the weather returned to seasonal averages, and we even (gasp!) began importing tomatoes. And once again, beautiful, firm, ripe red tomatoes returned to the market stalls. It still makes me happy every time I see them, even if the prices are still a bit higher than usual — say, 5 shekels a kilo instead of 3. But I’ve missed them, so I’ll pay up.

Therefore, I created this dish as a celebration of red, ripe tomatoes. It puts the tomato front and center, charred on a grill yet still firm. The rest is just adornment. You really need to use good tomatoes for this to be worth eating.

For an appetizer for two:

Sauce:
2 tablespoons date honey
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
pinch cinnamon (±1/16-1/32 teaspoon)
pinch salt (±1/16 teaspoon)

2 ripe tomatoes
1 red pepper
small amount of olive oil

mint leaves
zaatar leaves

Halve the tomatoes and the pepper, and brush the cut sides lightly with olive oil. Heat a grill or a stovetop pan with ridges, and sear the tomatoes and the pepper halves on both sides — the round peel, and the cut side, until slightly soft.

Meanwhile, bring the date honey, vinegar, spices and salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Finely chop the herbs.

Serve by arranging the seared vegetables on a plate, drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with chopped herbs.

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