You say Tomato, I say…

We planted our tomato seeds about three months ago and sort of forgot about them. They have grown incredibly fast in that time without much attention. The only problem with growing tomatoes is where’s the space! Tomatoes tend to take over your garden. A few weeks ago we saw their tiny yellow flowers and last week, the fruits have appeared. We have no idea what variety of tomato these are and we’ll just have to wait a few more weeks to find out. Unfortunately, we’ll be on holiday for a month so perhaps the gardener will enjoy the first tomato harvest. In India, unlike in Western countries, we rarely seek out different varieties like cherry tomatoes, heirloom, beef steak and I for one don’t know the names of our tomatoes, just the different shapes. We simply buy what’s on offer at the market as we use all tomatoes in the same way. We love tomatoes and in Indian food it’s used in so many of our gravy dishes and chutneys. One of our favourite uses of tomato that really celebrates this fruit is a chutney made by my husband’s grandmother. We call her Duchi, so this recipe is called “Duchi’s Tomato Chutney” or Grandma’s tomato chutney. It’s a very versatile chutney and can be used as a spread, dipping sauce, relish, for your idlis and dosas, even as pizza sauce. It’s a little sweet, hot and sour. So in anticipation of a large tomato harvest, here’s her easy recipe.  Also, my tips for how to grow tomatoes in any garden – in the ground or in containers.

Recipe for Duchi’s tomato chutney

Squishy tomatoes or ones on their way out are good for this dish.

Ingredients: 15 chopped tomatoes or however many you have – but not less than 6.

Jaggery or palm sugar

Panch phoran (Bengali five spices)

First, make the panch poran: grind together equal quantities of mustard seed (rai), cumin seed (jeera), fenugreek seed (methi), fennel seed (saunf), nigella seed (kalonji). Blend to a fine powder. I often don’t have the nigella seed and it’s fine without.

Heat 2 to 3 tsps of vegetable oil in a saucepan. When it is hot, add half a tsp of the panch phoran and let it sizzle for a second. Do not let it sit in the pan for longer or it will burn. Add chopped tomatoes and stir to mix in the spices.

Add 1/2 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of chilli powder (more or less as per your taste)

Stir and a bit of water if the tomatoes start to stick.

Add 1 tbsp of jaggery/palm sugar. The sugar balances the sourness of the tomatoes. Add more water as the liquid bubbles down. Cook for at least 15 to 20 minutes till the tomatoes completely break down and reaches a thickish gloopy consistency.

Duchi's tomato chutney

This is great to eat with almost anything – idlis, dosas, uppma, bread or a side dish to your regular meal. You can make it as sweet, hot or sour as you like.

tomato chutney with dosa

Growing tomatoes

First off, buy some good seeds. If you live in Vishakapatnam here’s where you go. You can start your seeds off in pots or a wide plastic container like this one to get many in at one time. I am a huge fan of compost so I would definitely add lots of compost with the regular soil. Once they start to poke their heads above the soil, ensure that the seedlings are not too close together, put them in to separate pots as they don’t like to be crowded. Once they are a couple of feet high, you can put them in the ground. Tomatoes require a lot of sunlight and do not like to dry out, so keep them wet. If you live in a cold climate the heat up your soil by covering the area with black or red plastic before you plant the seedlings. Once your plant has taken off, you must cut off the bottom leaves which tend to become yellow and have fungus.Cut or pinch off the small suckers that develop between the joint of two branches as these will not produce fruit and just suck valuable energy from the rest of the plant.

Once fruit on the vines start to ripen you might want to lessen the water you supply slightly as this will concentrate the sugars in the plant and cause the fruits to be sweeter. But do this with caution – under watering will cause your plant to droop, wilt and drop fruit too early.


Container growing

If you don’t have a garden, tomatoes are the king of container growing. The confined space makes this vine plant grow upwards. Smaller varieties like cherry tomatoes (seeds of which are widely available in India), do best in containers. But they require supports like a stake, trellis or cages. A wire cage will support the height and prevent them branching out too much but stakes will only provide the former. They require the same amount of sunlight, 6 to 8 hours, as tomatoes that grow in the ground.

Tomato plants in pots

About nonsense girl

Galley slave, qualitative researcher working in development, married my best friend, writing about my life, my family, my dog, TV, Indian culture, astronomy and my garden.
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One Response to You say Tomato, I say…

  1. i quite like the way the common place yet very vital tomato has been almost ( like Alice I like my words to mean what I want them to mean and not what the actual word means – so here goes) – eulogised -in Duchi’s chutney. I will certainly mention it to her. The panch phodan need not be ground….we often keep a mix of the seeds ‘whole’ and use them whole. They need to splutter in the oil before you add your tomatoes….the chutney in fact is easier to make and tastier that way….

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