Image Credit: Joanna Van Gruisen

Sweet and Sour Tomato Curry

Food & Travel | May 06, 2020

At the Sarai at Toria the food we serve is ‘home-cooked’ - the kind we ourselves eat at home. Having only eight cottages means at maximum we are feeding only 16-20 guests – no different really to entertaining a party of friends at home. For this reason, our kitchen is not designed with commercial fixtures and restaurant style cooking systems. We prefer not to provide a typical restaurant menu because we want to give our guests an authentic Indian food experience. As everywhere, dishes that are prepared and served in restaurants are vastly different from the tastes of original home cooking. This is particularly true of “Indian” restaurants. India is such a large heterogenous country, no restaurant could encapsulate the variety - styles and flavours differ form one district to the next, let alone from one State to another. The recipes we use in the Sarai’s kitchen are from our immediate family and friends and are prepared in the same way that we cook them at home. This makes a big difference and creates the unique taste that you will be unlikely to find from any other kitchen.

The sweet and sour tomato dish,  “Khatta-Mitha Tamatar” as we refer to it in our family, is definitely one of the top five most popular dishes of the Sarai at Toria kitchen. It is not unusual for our food to be enjoyed to such an extent that guests request to be shown how it is made so they may take the flavours home with them. This is how we came to add ‘cooking demos’ to our list of Sarai activities.  This mouth-watering tomato dish is one of those that most inspires guests to want to know how our food is cooked. It lends itself well as a souvenir, since the recipe needs very few ingredients and they are all easily available most places in the world, so it can be replicated anywhere. Besides it takes less than fifteen minutes to cook. What is not to love? It is basically a side dish but it can still dominate the palate. Very occasionally we may underestimate our guests’ appetites and when we do run out of a dish, it is invariably this one. However, it is so quick to cook and our cooks have mastered the art so well, they can prepare it so fast that the guest will never realise that it may have been cooked fresh for their repeated helpings.

Chapati and sweet and sour tomato

The Malwa region is in western Madhya Pradesh and is the region from which Raghu’s family comes. The cooking there is highly influenced by Maratha (because historically the region was ruled by Marathas for a long time), and neighbouring Rajasthan style of cooking. But since Malwa also borders Gujarat, there is some Gujarati influence too. Raghu learnt this tomato curry from his younger sister, Padmini, who had introduced it to the family during her college days. Because of its sweet and sour taste, many people think it is a Gujarati recipe but according to her, she first tasted it in her Maratha friend’s house and then developed it in her own way. So, it is not exactly an original Maratha recipe but is certainly influenced by it. 

Here is the recipe.  

Sweet and Sour Tomato Curry

It is important to have good quality tomatoes; tart varieties go best with this recipe.

Ingredients are for four servings (it works better when cooked in small quantities). 

Use any round-bottomed pan - a Kadai (a pan that is wok-shaped but with a thicker base) will work best. Flat-bottomed pans are not the best for Indian cooking, so if you plan to try Indian recipes regularly, we recommend you invest in good, thick- and round-bottomed pans.

½ kg Fully ripe tomatoes, washed, wiped and cut into large pieces.
2 green chillies (medium heat) sliced in half lengthwise. You can adjust to taste.
1 tsp black mustard seed.
1 ½ tbsp brown sugar - or normal white sugar will work.
1tbsp any refined oil
¼ tsp turmeric powder and 
Salt to taste

  Cooking guide

  1. Heat oil (any refined oil will work fine) in a pan, on medium heat and before it starts smoking, add the mustard seeds and let them pop.
  2. Add the sliced green chillies to the hot oil and mustard. Don’t let the chillies go brown. It will be spitting so you may want to cover it for 10 seconds.

    chilli and mustard sizzling
  3. Quickly add the tomatoes to the spitting chillies and stir occasionally in a gentle manner for half a minute on high heat. Bring the heat down to low medium. 
  4. Add salt to taste and the turmeric powder; mix well but carefully and after mixing, move all the tomatoes to one side, creating space with some liquid on the other.

    adding haldi
  5. Add sugar to the empty space created by moving the tomatoes. Let the sugar dissolve with the tomato liquid. Only after the sugar has dissolved, mix it well with the tomatoes.
  6. Taste for salt and sweetness to check the balance between tartness of tomatoes and sugar, if needed add more sugar accordingly, in earlier manner.

    adding the sugar
  7. Let it simmer for a few minutes with the lid on. Let the tomatoes cook on slow heat and do not stir too much and do not let them go mushy.

  8. Serve immediately. 

Caution: No coriander added. (Another reason this is one of Joanna’s favourite dishes!)

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