Fried Green Tomatoes with Apple Mustard and an Apple, Aged Cheddar and Arugula Salad

Apple butter and fried green tomatoes are Southern staples, but not necessarily things you think of eating together. Apple butter on toast? Yes. On a fried green tomato? No. Pimento cheese and bacon on green tomatoes? Yes. With arugula, apple and cheddar? No. But from my perspective apples and green tomatoes are both early fall ingredients. And because I believe what grows together goes together, apples and green tomatoes are a match made in the seasonal, preservation-minded kitchen. 

Often at my restaurant we treat green tomatoes like a crostini or a cracker —  a delivery mechanism for a spread or creamy cheese. Here I’m treating it like a crouton —  the crunchy, satisfying counterpoint to a boldly flavored salad. The salad and the green tomato work together because they sit on top of a sweet and spicy take on apple butter that weds the two worlds. The aged cheddar helps too. Still apple butter mounted with Dijon mustard is a condiment capable of marrying many things and shouldn’t be overlooked when you need a steak sauce, a companion for chicken or a slather for ribs. 

1 cup buttermilk
Zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons hot sauce
3 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 medium green tomatoes, cut into ½ inch thick slices
2/3 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup vegetable oil (for frying)
2 cups baby arugula
4 ounces aged white cheddar, shaved into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
1 large Fuji apple, or other crisp sweet eating apple
Juice of 1 lemon, about 3 tablespoons
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup Apple Mustard (recipe below)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, lemon zest, hot sauce and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the tomato slices, and let them marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. In a small bowl, stir together the cornmeal, 1 ½ teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper. 

In a 10-inch skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat till it shimmers but does not smoke. Dredge the tomatoes in the cornmeal mixture. Shake off any excess cornmeal and carefully drop each tomato into the oil, making sure the slices do not touch. Fry the tomatoes on the first side till they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip them over and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the tomatoes on paper towels and season with ½ teaspoon salt. 

Cut the apple off its core and into ¼ inch thick slices. In a medium bowl, toss apple slices with arugula, white cheddar, lemon juice, remaining ½ teaspoon salt and olive oil. 

Smear about ¼ cup apple mustard over the bottom of four plates. Divide tomato slices and the salad among four plates. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

Apple Mustard
4 cloves
3 sprigs thyme
1 star anise
1 1/2 pounds apples, diced, skin and core intact (6 cups)
1 large yellow onion, diced, about 2 cups 
1/2 small orange, sliced thin, seeds removed
1 cup apple cider
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup smooth Dijon mustard

Tie the cloves, thyme and star anise in a sachet. Then combine apples, onion, orange slices, apple cider, water, brown sugar, vinegar, cayenne pepper, and salt in a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and bring it up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour. Remove the lid and cook an additional 30 minutes. Pluck out the sachet. Stir in the Dijon mustard and transfer to a high-powered blender. Remove the round insert from the top of your blender and cover the resulting hole with a towel. Blend slowly at first, increasing speed as you feel confident you’re not going to make a huge hot mess. Let it go until the apple butter is incredibly smooth. This will keep sealed in the fridge for up to a month. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Yield: 4 cups