tomato saar

Last summer I visited one of my many long lost cousins, S,  in Bournemouth, which is on the coast in the south of England.  South England in general has been called (or accused of being) the quintessential vision of aristocratic, agricultural England, and, in the 20s, even saw middle class preservationists organize mass-walking/’rambling’ trips in order to both preserve the landscape and to demand more open access to the land.  Because of such preservation efforts, much of the land still resembles the quilted agricultural serenity of overactive English imagination.  And now it’s populated by elderly white people (still) and Indian-born bankers, like my cousin.  Anyway, it’s pretty.

Aside from such pastoral pleasures, however, was an excellent lunch generously prepared by my cousin’s wife, P.  And the highlight here was a dish that I had never tried or known of before.  It was an incredibly spicy, clear, strong tomato soup.  It was definitely too spicy for my sister, which isn’t saying much, but also for my parents, who just don’t really prefer a lot of spice.  For me it was perfect, especially because the level of spiciness is really what makes the dish.  So I badgered my mother to get the recipe for months, and finally made it the other day.  It’s actually a Maharashtrian dish.  It’s very simple, easy to prepare, and very tasty.

Tomato Saar

4 medium to big tomatoes, quartered

1 14oz can coconut milk

3-5 green ‘thai’ chillies, minced

2 tsps cumin seed

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp sugar

salt

4-5 dry Curry leaves

1/2 cup  roughly chopped Cilantro

2 tblsp oil

1. Braise tomates in 1 cup of water on medium-low heat, until tender and fully cooked (15-ish minutes)

2. Place the tomatoes in a food processor while reserving the liquid in the pan.  Puree and strain into a bowl using a mesh colander.  I actually strained it once, and then blended the leftover pulp further, and strained again.  Pass the water through the colander into the bowl as well.  Cool completely.  That’s very important, which is why it’s in bold.

3. Combine pureed tomato and coconut  in a sauce pan over medium high heat and let it come to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and keep stiring so the two do not separate.

4. This part is called the ‘phodni’ or ‘tadka’ and is sort of the key to many Indian dishes, particularly in the South.  Heat the oil.  When hot, turn the heat down to medium or medium low and  add chillies.  A note about chilies.  I used ‘thai’ chilies from grocery warehouse.  They look like this:

I kept the seeds in to make the dish more spicy.  My mother recommended three jalapeño peppers, but these are spicier.  I would have guessed they are 2-3 times spicier, but according to the scoville scale, they are 5-10 times spicer, with the jalapeño being 3000-8000 units and the thai chili being 50,000-100,000.  I would not have guessed that.  In any case the final result was, yes, spicy, but next time I’ll probably use five of these thai chilies.  They’re so cheap anyway, especially at grocery warehouse.

5. After frying chillies for 3-4 minutes, add cumin seed and curry leaves and fry for 3 mor minutes.

6. Gently add the tomato/coconut mixture, turmeric,sugar, salt and the cilantro. Bring to boil and reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer for 3 minutes.

7.  Strain the soup through the mesh colander again.  Serve with your choice of flatbread.

Seriously, this soup is really good.  Again, the key is to make it spicy.  If you are nervous, just have a small bowl of yogurt on the side to temper the spice as you are eating it, but don’t skimp on the peppers.  I almost want to say that when I originally had it there was no coconut milk involved, because it was so clear.  But in any case the coconut milk adds flavor and richness to the dish.  It is not photogenic, like most soups I think, but is very tasty and easy to make.

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