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High impact veggie

Tomatoes go way beyond the regular purees and gravies. Chef Sanjeev Kapoor writes about the versatility of the vegetable.

india Updated: Sep 13, 2008 12:00 IST

What’s so fantastic about tomatoes? That they are red and plump (and when rotten can be used as missiles on

besura

singer). Tomatoes play a large role in our daily food being able to take various guises in soups, beverages, salads, gravies, sauces, ketchup, rasams, dals, pulaos, snacks, chutneys among others.



This can include a tomato

halwa

that I make and also a tomato

phirni

that is quite a novel dessert. Incidentally, which soup sells the most in restaurants? Did I hear you say the cream of tomato? I think so too. Though the colour of some of them can be quite sickly bordering on orange. The colour of tomato soup is very important for palatability.



If only tomato juice is used the product will lack appeal. However if the pulp is pressed vigorously through the mesh used for pureeing, this pulp will contribute a pleasing red colour and wholesome flavour as well.



That versatile plant


Cultivated tomatoes vary in size from cherry and slightly longish grape tomatoes (both do well in salads) up to beefsteak tomatoes that are nearly four inches in diameter. Tomato plant has taken a lot of research and genetic handling and cultivators produce not only red fruit but also yellow, orange, pink, purple, green, or white fruit! Multicolored and striped fruit can also be quite striking.



The versatility of the tomato as a raw vegetable is evident in all the cooking that is done around the world. Round tomatoes make excellent cases for fillings (that can be recycled leftovers!) and when baked with a crusty cheese topping, make a dish fit for a special occasion.



Tomato tricks


Tomato puree is wonderful too. You can use it freshly made at home or go for the packaged one. I freeze tomato puree in ice trays and zip lock the cubes for ready use. This trick works very well when tomatoes are really nice in the season and one wishes to preserve them. One-two cubes of tomato puree in an insipid dal or aloo matar can really create wonders. I also enjoy a platter of thickly sliced firm tomatoes with a sprinkling of

chaat masala

.



One of my friends takes tomato slices sandwiched between slices of paneer, dips them in thick besan and then fries these pakoras. Sumptuous. I have also seen tomatoes come to my aid when there is nothing much at hand. Tomato rasam, tomato rice, tomato chutney.. all these can be counted as excellent recipes that defy their simplicity.



New dimensions


Green tomatoes are wonderful chopped up and tempered lightly. Add some jaggery and you have an instant chutney type side vegetable! Or buy a whole lot and let them ripen at home. If there is one word that crops up often in recipes it is concasse. This is roughly chopped tomato flesh done after peeling and seeding tomatoes.


Sun dried tomatoes with their strong smoky flavour and pleasant chewy texture, are now available in most large stores. Tiny bits of them can add new dimensions to omelettes and pizzas.



Health matters


Consumption of tomatoes is believed to benefit the heart among other things. They contain lycopene, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants, which, especially when tomatoes are cooked, has been found to help prevent prostrate cancer.



Personally, my favourite gravies are tomato based; this is probably because of its fruity texture and taste. In North Indian cooking tomato is one of the most often used ingredients. Imagine

Dal makhni

or

Dum aloo

without them. Gazpacho would cease to exist if tomatoes go extinct. So would Bloody Mary. Few vegetables have greater culinary impact than the tomato.



(The writer is a master chef, author and television Host)

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