As another tomato season comes to an end, I find myself reaching for recipes that make the most of what remains of it. End-of-season tomatoes may not shine quite as brightly as those picked at its height, but they still have the power to bring a dish together, and to make summer last a little longer even as the evenings grow cooler.
One of my favorite ways to use tomatoes is this marinated mussels and tomatoes salad. Inspired by my love of both seafood and salads, it’s a summertime staple for me, and a star of many picnics with friends. I love working with seasonal ingredients and playing off their strengths with the right combo of acidity, spice, and textures, something I do here with the help of habanero pepper, chili de arbol, and smoked paprika, all of which add depth and dimension to the two starring ingredients (even more so if you marinate the mussels overnight). Meanwhile, a sherry vinegar-based pickling liquid dials up their volume a notch.
This dish, like so many others, is how I show the people I love that I care about them, and that they deserve to eat something good. One friend recently told me that eating it made them feel transported to a small coastal beach town — that’s how I knew it was working. So make the most of the tomatoes that remain, and as winter approaches, carry your memories of the season — and your friends — close.
Marinated Mussels and Tomato Salad
For the pickling liquid:
½ cup water
½ cup sherry vinegar
1 habanero pepper, cut in half lengthwise
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
For the mussels and salad:
2 large tomatoes
1 pound mussels
1/2 cup vodka or white wine
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chili de árbol, coarsely ground
1 tablespoon black pepper, coarsely ground
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Step 1: In a broiler or oven preheated to 500 degrees, place 1 tomato on a sheet tray and roast for 15-20 minutes, turning the tomato occasionally until its outer skin is blackened.
Step 2: To make the pickling liquid, place half the habanero pepper in a small saucepan along with the water, sherry vinegar, and coriander seeds. Bring it to a rapid boil, then immediately remove from the heat. Set aside, allowing the habanero and coriander seeds time to steep and lend more flavor to the pickling liquid while you clean and cook the mussels. Allow the liquid to cool completely.
Step 3: Rinse the mussels well with cold water and remove their beards. Place the mussels, vodka or wine, and half of the garlic in a 12-inch stainless steel saute pan. Cover and cook on medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes or until the mussels have popped open and their liquid, (known as liquor), has released. Discard any mussels that haven’t opened. Pull the mussels from their shells and transfer to a small non-reactive bowl, leaving the cooking liquid in the pan. Toss the mussels with the lemon juice, shallots, chili de arbol, a pinch of kosher salt, and the completely cooled pickling liquid. Set aside. You can prepare the mussels and let them marinate overnight, covered, in the refrigerator, if you’d like.
Step 4: Add the black pepper, two generous pinches of salt, and bay leaves to the saute pan. Place over medium-high heat and simmer to infuse the spices in the cooking liquid (about 1-2 minutes). Set aside.
Step 5: Remove the roasted tomato from the oven and add it to a blender with the remaining half of the habanero, remaining garlic, smoked paprika and the cooking liquid, making sure to remove the bay leaves first. Blend until smooth and homogenous. Pass the blended sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove any uneven bits. Allow the sauce to cool in the refrigerator. You’ll end up with extra sauce but it’s worth it for later use in salad dressings or as a condiment.
Step 6: Slice the remaining tomato crosswise into ⅛-inch rounds and toss to coat with a spoonful of the blended sauce. Arrange the tomato slices on plates and top with the mussels and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Finish with chili flakes and kosher salt and serve with bread.
Chef and artist DeVonn Francis is the creator of Yardy World, a hospitality company that utilizes food to authentically engage with people, and their stories and identities.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon
Tested by Ivy Manning