While tomatoes are as common a vegetable in India as in any other country, I had actually never seen a cherry tomato until I came to North America. I instantly fell in love with them!
When sweet, ripe and in season, I love them raw in salads or seared just for 1-2 minutes with a burst of cumin seeds and added to a pilaf or doused in ghee and roasted in the oven just till they pop into a jammy burst of flavor inside your mouth. The farmers markets are still filled with them, and the flavor may be at its prime these days, so get them while you can.
Here is a recipe for a tomato sabzi with multi-faceted uses. “Sabzi” just means vegetables, they could be cooked or raw. I often make a large batch, preserve it in jars and use it over the winter when there are no good tomatoes in sight. You can eat it hot, cold or at room temperature. On lazy mornings, it is lovely on toast for breakfast — especially with a cup of chai. To liven it up, add a fried egg or a piece of cheese. Or toss some with scrambled eggs. Grill or roast a piece of fish for dinner and serve the sabzi over it instead of a sauce.
Don’t be alarmed by the quantity of oil in the recipe. The oil acts like a preservative and helps keep the tomato flavors intact. And above all, use this and all recipes as a guide to have fun in the kitchen!
4-5 cups (1½ pounds) cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
¼ cup ghee or olive oil
15-20 curry leaves (see note)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (see note)
1 cup onions, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1½ teaspoon salt
In a small stockpot, heat the ghee or olive oil until it is smoking but not yet shimmering. Add the curry leaves and mustard seeds; the seeds will start to pop and sizzle.
Within a few seconds, add the minced onions and cook them on medium heat, stirring frequently until they are translucent. Add 3-4 cups of the tomatoes, reserving the rest to add at the end.
Stir in the chili powder and salt. Cover the stockpot and lower heat to its lowest setting. Cook for 10-15 minutes, then turn the heat off and add the remaining tomatoes. Let the sabzi rest for 15-20 minutes. Transfer to jars if preserving or refrigerate until ready to eat.
Note: Curry (or kari) leaves have a lemony pine essence and are native to Indian cooking. They can be found at most Indian grocers (such as India Mart and Keemat Grocers) and can also be grown successfully in Houston weather. You may substitute lemon or lime leaf or tender lemongrass. Black mustard seeds are best, but may substituted with dark brown or yellow mustard seeds.
ideas / variations
Substitute olive oil for ghee for a heartier taste; however, this would be best served warm.
When popping the seeds, be careful not to burn them. This makes them bitter in flavor.
Any kind of onions will work — red, white or yellow. Even leeks or shallots will do.