Family recipes, recipes that have been cooked for eons are very close to my heart. These recipes acquire a certain character and repute after being cherished by generations. Tastes, preferences and choices change as time moves further and as the plethora of choices increase, but such recipes withstand the test of time. They bring back memories, refresh long forgotten associations and evoke emotions within us.
Tomato pickle has been an important part of my childhood holidays. With two of my aunts making it (they have different recipes), I remember scooping up the bright coloured spicy sour pickle with crispy dosas and savouring it with good old plain curd rice. As we children sat around the table eagerly waiting with anticipation for our plates to be filled, the bottle of this magnificent coloured pickle lying on the table always brought solace to me with the knowledge that breakfast or lunch would never be a dull affair with it as an accompaniment. This also makes me marvel about the ease with which the previous generation of women fed their families with unmatched energy and love. And makes me introspective about the fact that most of our generation gets tired with just managing day to day affairs and with routine activities which makes me ask the question “along with the hereditary genes, why wasn’t the energy of these remarkable women transferred to us?”
The recipe that I’m sharing with you today does not belong to either of my aunts. It was given to me by one of my favourite south Indian cooks, my sister’s mother-in-law Mrs Uma Jayaraman who makes the most awesome paruppu vadai (lentil dumplings) and chakkarai pongal (a milk based pudding with rice and lentils) and tomato pickle.
I had heard quite a few things about Uma aunty’s tomato pickle. When my brother-in-law was at Insead, it rescued many drab meals for him and when I visited my sister’s home, I finally had a taste of one of the most delicious pickles and then realized that it had acquired a prized status in her family for good reason.
I immediately wrote to this charming and erudite lady and got the recipe with the side note that she learnt how to make this from her mother-in-law who could make pickles and lehiyams (home remedies) in a flash.
Just a little of this spicy and sour pickle goes great with Indian breads, parathas, rice, dal and pulao. And it is perfect with curd rice (rice made with yogurt)! A jar of this homemade pickle at home can be comforting and heartening and can enliven many meals while adding more drama to great meals. With a clean spoon, dig into this jar and I assure that you will not only lick the spoon clean but will also be left with the a lingering taste that will not be forgotten for a long time to come.
Tomato Pickle Recipe
This pickle is best made with indegenous tomatoes known as nati tomato in Karnataka and desi tomato in the hindi speaking states, which has a very short season. I’m sure other varieties of good quality tomatoes would work too.
1 kg ( 10 medium sized) tomatoes
15 dry red chillies
5 green chilies (or use more for a spicier version)
1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt or to taste
4 tsp packed tamarind
125 ml (1/2 cup) sesame (til) oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 1/4 tsp asafetida, divinded
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fenugreek seeds (methi) (dry roasted for a few seconds and crushed)
Wash tomatoes and cut into halves. Remove the eyes of the tomatoes.
Place the tomatoes in a sauce pan and cook covered without any water until the skin starts to peel. Peel off the skin and place in a food processor or blender and grind to a puree. With the help of a soup strainer remove the seeds and keep aside.
In the food processor or blender, place the red chili, green chili, 1/2 tsp salt and tamarind along with this tomato paste and blend again.
In a heavy bottomed wok or kadhai, heat til oil and add mustard seeds. When they pop add 1/2 tsp asafetida or hing, turmeric powder and the ground paste and allow to cook on low heat, stirring in between so that it does not stick to the bottom of the wok or pan.
When the pickle starts leaving oil add the roasted and crushed methi seeds and the remaining asafetida and salt.
Allow to cool and place in an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator.
P.S This pickle has a tendency to splutter and splash while cooking making it a messy affair. Using a thick bottomed vessel or pan and wearing gloves can help!