Manisha Pandit, creator of the popular food blog Indian Food Rocks, is a master behind the stove and camera lens. In her monthly column, she shares Indian recipes and cooking techniques that are as pleasurable to see as they are to swallow.
Today, Manisha transforms the last unripened green tomatoes from her vine into a sweet and sour side dish.
I've been obsessed with tomatoes this year -- growing them, eating them, and canning them. I canned 30 pounds of organic tomatoes from my local farmers' market using three different methods: raw packed with added liquid, raw packed with no added liquid, and hot packed. I also canned several pints of spicy salsa with 5 pounds of tomatoes and jalapeños from my backyard. It's a great feeling to have summer preserved in a jar and to know that I won't be worrying about BPA leaching into our food through the lining of some aluminum cans.
This summer was the first year that I truly tried my hand at growing anything in my backyard. My neighbor helped me plot and plant my herb patch as well as a small vegetable patch. When he saw the number of earthworms in my soil, he was hopeful that the seedlings we were transplanting into a harsh environment might actually flourish. And they did. We ate fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes all summer, but only in small batches. It was only when the weather turned cold that my vines started producing tomatoes like there was no tomorrow. In a way, that was quite true! Frost, combined with a hard freeze over the first weekend of October, signaled the end of summer and, therefore, the end of tomato season.
I plucked a large bounty of green tomatoes and knew exactly what I was going to do with them: make Green Tomatoes Bhaji! Bhaji (bhah-gee) has a two-fold meaning, determined by the context in which it is used. It can mean fresh produce or it can mean a side dish made from vegetables.
Tomatoes were introduced to the Indian subcontinent by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. Like peppers, potatoes and other New World vegetables, these were quickly assimilated into the vast breadth of Indian cuisine. Tomatoes are eaten raw in kachumber or salads, they are used to make the base for sauces and curries, they are used to add a tart flavor to dishes, and they take center stage in soupy, tangy dals.
Green tomatoes, however, are not as widely used as ripe tomatoes. Indeed, this tomato bhaji is traditionally made with ripe red tomatoes. It is a fine balance of sweet and sour, leaning more toward sweet. Since I had a fairly large bounty of crisp, green tomatoes, I decided to make a green tomato-based bhaji.
Jaggery is the sweetener of choice for most recipes from my home state of Maharashtra, and with good reason. The sugar industry in India is dominated by my home state, with the largest number of co-operatives and factories owned jointly by sugar farmers. Jaggery can be found in Indian grocery stores in large blocks as well as small chunks. It adds a deep caramel flavor to dishes and is definitely worth a try if you have not tasted it before. If you don't have access to jaggery, use brown sugar instead. For this particular recipe, I had to increase the amount of jaggery as my green tomatoes were very tart.
Green Tomatoes Bhaji packs a lot of flavor for the minimal effort it takes to put it together. According to my teen daughter, "it's a keeper," and I agree with her wholeheartedly. I just wish I did not have to wait until next summer or fall to make it again! You might be luckier than we are here in Colorado, and still have the last vestiges of summer in your area. Make the most of those green tomatoes with this bhaji before autumn's cold grip takes over.
Green Tomatoes Bhaji
7-8 small to medium green tomatoes
1 tablespoon ghee
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 pinch asafetida
1-2 hot green chiles
1 tablespoon crumbled jaggery, loosely packed
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/8 cup coarsely crushed peanuts
Like this post? See Manisha's previous topic: Eggplant Bhareet.
Photos by Manisha Pandit.
Manisha writes the food blog Indian Food Rocks, spiced with eclectic Indian food and entertaining anecdotes.