Please don’t kill me today because I have yet another preserve recipe here for you. But I can’t help it. First it was cherries, then apricots and greengages and now tomatoes – summer has been a little hard on me! Not that I am complaining to be on the receiving end of such abundant organic produce at my arm’s reach but how much can a girl take? I have made tamatar aloo, tomato tadka dal and tomato green chutney enough times to be able to scare my family away from the dinner table by just the sound of it. So preserving pounds after pounds of tomatoes was the only option I had! Now that’s what summer is all about right- abundant fresh produce and a lot of preserving? I am sad that its time to hug the season bye but I wanted it to end on this note because that’s what I have happy memories of and assume its a tradition.
Summers would come and my grandma would be after my Papa’s life to go to the haat (local farmer’s market) to get raw mangoes and whole spices so that she can start prepping them up for the whole year. She was in her eighties and could still sit for hours drying whole chilies in the sun to later grind them with her own hands with a mortar and pestle to make garam masala. Jars for aam ka achar (pickled raw mangoes) would come out of the shelves, cleaned, dried and filled with the mango wedges coated with loads of oil and just the right amount of spices. Of course everyone had to still follow the customary rules of not touching or opening the jars for some time or with bare hands – something as trivial as that might spoil the whole batch. Just like any teenage girl, I would try to watch my figure and maa would throw in dollops of ghee (clarified butter) in my daal with a big wedge of pickled mango or lemon canned from last summer. I would frown and she would say, “eat it, this will make you strong!” Well, I had to and no wonder I do the same to my daughter now. Somehow a bowl full of steaming hot dal chawal (steamed rice with yellow lentil soup) with achar (pickle) is all you need to be transported back to that time!
Tomato Achar is not necessarily a common variety of pickle used in India but mummy has been making it for as long as I can remember and was one of my favorites after her world famous pickled red chili peppers. I have spoken about panch foran here and that is what we are using to pickle the tomatoes here. Also its very simple to make but the amount of salt and oil is very crucial for this recipe. The amount of water in tomato is a good “ingredient” for disaster and if there isn’t enough oil in the pickle then it can go bad pretty fast. So its important that the oil is enough to cover the whole of pickle in the jar. It might seem a lot but trust me, its not.
4 pounds sliced tomato (I used Early Girl tomatoes but you can use any variety)
1/2 cup or 2 bulbs garlic
1/3 cup thai/cayenne green chili
3 tablespoon Panch Foran spices
1/4 teaspoon asafetida
1/3 curry leaves (coarsely chopped)
1 cup olive/mustard oil
1/2 cup salt
Using a mortar and pestle, crush garlic and green chili together. If you do not have a mortar pestle handy, you can always use a food processor to coarsely grind it. I like it coarsely ground because I like it when I get little chunks of garlic or chili in my pickle. If you are not a fan then blend it into a paste.
Heat oil in a large thick bottom pan. Add asafetida and panch foran spices. As soon as they sputter, add curry leaves. They will splatter wildly for a few seconds so make sure you are at a safe distance from the pan.
Once the splattering is calmed down add garlic and chili paste. Fry for about a minute until they turn lightly golden in color.
Add tomatoes and salt. Mix everything together and bring it to a boil. As the tomatoes start to boil, reduce the heat to medium low and let it simmer until all the liquid is cooked off, for about 1- 1.5 hours.
Towards the end when all the liquid is evaporated, tomato with reduce to a thicker chutney like consistency and oil will separate. Cook for another 7-10 minutes making sure there’s no water left.
Once cooked through, let the pickle cool down before transferring into a can. Store it in a cool dry place in air tight containers. In a refrigerator this pickle can last for at least a couple months.
Serve as a spread with your choice of bread, as a dip with veggies or the traditional way with a bowl full of steaming hot dal chawal!