According to my friends and culinary mentors, the Lo’s, Chinese did not see tomatoes until the 1930’s. Tomatoes were used green and were valued for their refreshing tartness—that quality of swan, or flavorful sourness, which is one of the Five Flavors of classic Chinese cuisine.
Twist off the stems, then wash, dry, and shine the tomatoes. Cut each one into 8 or 9 wedges. For attractive wedges, begin by cutting the tomato in half lengthwise through the stem. Then, cut wedges always to the side of the stem mark, so that in the end only 2 or 3 wedges bear a blemish. Cut these off with a neat diagonal slice. This is prettier and easier than coring the tomatoes.
Put the wedges in a glass or stainless bowl, sprinkle with the salt and white sugar, and toss well. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 12 hours, tossing occasionally.
Whisk the vinegar and brown sugar to dissolve the sugar, and set aside. Drain the tomatoes, rinse briefly with cool water, then spread on a lint-free towel to blot up excess moisture. Transfer the tomatoes to an immaculately clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, then stir the vinegar mixture and scrape it into the jar. Add the garlic, seal the jar, and turn it to distribute the seasonings. (Don’t worry if the liquids seem skimpy; they will triple after an hour.)
Put the jar on its side, and let the tomatoes marinate at room temperature for 6 hours, turning the jar occasionally to distribute the liquids. Then, refrigerate 24 hours before serving, turning the jar periodically.
Serve the wedges whole, or cut each wedge into 2 or 3 thinner wedges ¼ inch thick. Heap in a small bowl, or arrange in a pretty spiral pattern on a plate of a contrasting color and spoon a bit of juice on top.
The tomatoes will stay crunchy 4–5 days, refrigerated in the jar. Color and flavor are best on the first and second days.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.