Sold out on tomatoes

CODE RED

It's hard to believe that ‘tomatoes’, a widely-used vegetable was once considered deadly poisonous.

The botanist mistakenly took the tomato for the wolfpeach referred to by Galen in his third century writings – a poison in a palatable package which was used to destroy wolves. The belief existed before 1500s but mercifully things have changed a lot since then. Today, tomatoes are an essential part of all cuisines.
From Indian to Spanish and Italian, tomatoes are used in almost all the dishes. So, what should be kept in mind while preparing tomato gravy for Indian cuisine and tomato sauce for Italian cuisine? “When it comes to Indian cooking one need not be that particular about the quality of the tomatoes as it gets all cooked with various spices and the flavour of the tomato is pretty much lost,” says Sushmit Daniels, executive chef, Pintxo Restaurant.

“But for Italian cuisine one needs to make sure about the quality and the grade of the tomato being used. Flavour of the tomato has to remain virgin. It can be sautéd with onions and garlic and is cooked till the raw smell goes, leaving behind a nice rich tomato sauce,” he says.

Sushmit mentions about African cuisines, where many dishes are enriched with tomato base. “Tomatoes, onions and chilli peppers are considered an essential and even ‘sacred’ cooking technique in the region”. Combining and cooking these three ingredients in oil is analogous to holy trinity of Cajun and Creole cooking, soffritto in Italy, and the mirepoix of France,” he says.

No surprise, tomato is an essential part of Indian cuisine as well. Chef Gurmeet of Grills & Platters, the Buffet restaurant says, “Tomatoes were not indigenous to India and were only available in the country after 16th century onwards, courtesy the Portuguese. They, even at that time, could not have thought of the culinary evolution which happened after their introduction to Indian cuisine. Not only did tomatoes become one of the famous ingredients in the Indian kitchen but so many dishes evolved around it, ranging from Indian chutneys, soups and to curries.”

He says, “Tomatoes add sourness and create a base that carries the spices and eventually absorbs the juices given forth by the main ingredients in the dish. Since tomatoes form an all-purpose gravy. vegetables, such as cubed potatoes and peas, a mix of carrot, bean batons, cauliflower, mushrooms, boiled eggs, chicken, paneer can be added to it,” says Gurmeet.

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