The Spaniards took the tomato, native to the tropical Americas, to Western Europe by 1550. The tomato reached India much later, through England, around the late eighteenth century.
Did you know that? And all this while, I thought India had the patent on the tomato! And where do you find information like this? In Ammini's Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts, of course!
There is so much every day stuff that we take for granted. The chillies and most of the spices we take pride in, really came from other lands. That I knew. But that the tomato was not native to India came as a big surprise. I can't imagine a day when I do not have some form of tomato easily available in my home. If I don't have fresh tomatoes, I have cans of diced tomatoes as well as cans of tomato paste.
- Store tomatoes on the counter until they ripen
- Temperatures cooler than 50F-55F change the flavor of tomatoes and also stop the ripening process.
- Once cut or sliced, use the tomato quickly as it deteriorates quickly and refrigerate it, if necessary.
- Some people like to ripen tomatoes by placing them in a brown paper bag for a couple of days
- Don't stack tomatoes one on top of another. The tomatoes at the bottom will get bruised.
- Once ripe, consume within a couple of days
- And if you have to refrigerate them, bring them to room temperature to bring back some of the lost flavor.
Tomatoes are rich in beta-carotene and cooked tomatoes are considered even healthier due to the benefits of lycopene. That's what I like about Ammini's Thakkali (Tomato) Chutney. All that lycopene! Plus I get the benefit of much more - a spicy tangy flavor - as soon as I put it in my mouth!
Ammini's Thakkali Chutney was on the menu for our cook together but we had a shortage of burners and we had several of my homemade pickles that everyone was very keen on tasting. So we dropped it from the menu. To my friends who were there at the cook together: I am really really sorry! This fresh tomato chutney makes you long for it when you see it, makes your mouth water when you smell it and is sheer bliss when you finally get to eat it. I will make it up to you, I promise!
From Ammini Ramachandran's Grains, Greens and Grated Coconuts.
- 6 to 8 ripe tomatoes
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 3 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tsp powdered fenugreek seeds
- 4 tsp of red chilli powder (use less for mild flavor)
- 1/4 tsp asafetida powder (optional)
- 12 to 15 fresh curry leaves
- Salt to taste
- Boil water in a large pan.
- Score an X at the stem end of each tomato.
- When the water boils, drop the tomatoes into boiling water for about 30 seconds only.
- Take them out promptly and drop them into cool water. This process makes it easy to peel the tomatoes.
- Once they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin.
- Cut the peeled tomatoes in half, discard the seeds, and thinly slice the tomatoes.
- Cook the tomatoes with two tablespoons of water, turmeric powder and salt.
- Once cooked, remove the pan from the stove and mash well with a fork till you have a thick purée.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a small skillet and add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the cumin powder, powdered fenugreek, chilli powder, asafetida, and curry leaves. Do not leave this on the stove for longer than a minute as the fenugreek powder will burn and taste bitter. As will the chilli powder.
- Combine the cooked tomatoes with the spices in the oil, and mix well.
- You can have this immediately or chill it in the refrigerator and serve it with idlis or dosas. I have had it on toast and bagels, too! I served it with my dear friend Anita's rava idlis. This was a meal par excellence - two recipes that complemented each other perfectly, from two brilliant women that I have had the good fortune to come to know.
- The first time I made this I was hesitant to add more than 1 tsp of red chilli powder. The color of the chutney was rather lacklustre so I added a tablespoon of tomato paste. This was a hit with Medha.
- The next time I made it, I added two teaspoons of red chilli powder and 2 teaspoons of Spanish Red Paprika. This was just the right amount of heat for us and the paprika gave it that wonderful color. Medha was not happy!
- Make fenugreek powder at home in your coffee grinder by grinding 3 tsp of fenugreek seeds.
- Ammini says that this chutney will keep well in the refrigerator for two weeks.
- She also makes this chutney with canned tomatoes. Bottled or canned Italian San Marzano tomatoes have the right degree of acidity and blend very well with the spice mixture. In the absence of Italian tomatoes, substitute any readily available canned tomatoes. If you use canned tomatoes, mix it with about a half-cup of water, salt, and turmeric powder, and cook until the mixture has thickened. Then follow the recipe as above.
- This recipe yields between 1.5 to 2 cups, depending on the size of your tomatoes.
I am going to send this to my friend RP, also from Kerala, who is hosting Jihva for Tomatoes in April.