Tomatoes. Fresh, luscious, straight-off-the-vine. glistening and full of flavour!
The actual association of tomatoes with physical summer has come about more for me after moving out of India. Back there, not only are good tomatoes available all year round, the sunshine is more or less always there too. But here, one waits till summer to have the truly tantalizing tomatoes. The rest of the year we make do with what we can get. They are certainly better than no tomatoes, but not a patch on the summer freshness of the pomme d’amour in season.
There’s nothing more alluring about summer than the tomato. They are everywhere in the markets, ripe and ready, simply there for the taking. You slice one up and inhale the heady bouquet. There is sunshine all around you even on a cold day in July. Yes, you heard that right. Cold day in July. I’m not talking about the southern hemisphere either. While the rest of the country is sweating it out and bitching about heatwaves (as a friend of mine up in Seattle so delicately puts it), we are having shivery days under thick blankets of grey-white fog. While I do love the cold and am not too crazy about heat, I do miss the sun. I’ll take it where I can find it, and nothing delivers like new seasons’ tomatoes.
It is strange how much I love the nightshade family of vegetables (though some are technically fruits). Maybe I dabbled in poisons in a past life? At any rate, the potato, the chilli peppers (self-evident how I feel about those) and the tomato; poisonous they are not. What they are, is tops on my list of favourites. There is no better sandwich than a good tomato, cut into thick steaks, on good white bread with some cheese, salt and pepper. For me, there wasn’t a better sandwich for years. Tomato, bread and cheddar, that what I demanded for lunch every time I had to take a packed lunch; to school, for the school picnic…or simply because it was Tuesday. There is something inherently comforting sitting with that tomato sandwich, the piquant juices oozing into the bread and running down your fingers. You experience an unexpected lifting of your spirits. It is like metaphorical sunshine for your soul.
It was also here that I discovered the heirloom tomato. Ever since, I’m torn between the scarlet red tomatoes and the rich greens, yellows, and purples of the heirloom variety. Also the ridiculous shapes crack me up. They are the funniest looking veggies around, unless of course, there’s some ginger around. (What can I say! I’m an architect! We respond to form.:)) Sometimes I end up with quantities of both. This is a major no-no in my tiny apartment, which can look like it is drowning in tomatoes even if I only have a couple of dozen or so on the counter. Tomatoes are best stored out of the refrigerator. This is exactly where I found myself after a recent trip to the market. Fortunately, I also have this recipe for a sublime tomato soup.
Given the recent weather in San Francisco, a soup is completely apropos. This recipe is essentially one for a saar, a thin type of curry eaten over rice. But many dals and curries make a comfortable transition to soup, just like that of a sauce. This is another of my mother-in-law’s gems, a genius recipe for a cold summer.
Tomato soup with a twist
Tomatoes – 6, medium to large
Chilli powder – 1 tsp
Peppercorns – 4-5
Coconut milk – 3 tbsp
Honey – 1 tsp
Chickpea flour – 1 1/2 tsp
Canola oil- 2 tbsp
Curry Leaves – 4
Asafoetida – 1/2 tsp
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Cilantro for garnish
– Put the tomatoes in a large pot. Pour enough water to cover the tomatoes. Bring the water to a boil along with the tomatoes. (about 15 to 20 minutes).
– Pick the tomatoes out of the water and plunge into a bowl of cold water. This should loosen the skins which you should remove.
– In a blender, add the skinned tomatoes, peppercorns, coconut milk and chickpea flour and puree until smooth.
– Pour back into the pot and add salt, chilli powder and honey. Bring the soup to a boil over medium heat.
– In a small pan, heat the oil. Temper the oil with cumin, curry leaves and asafoetida.
– Pour the tempered oil into the heated tomato soup.
Ladle into bowls to serve and garnish with cilantro.. and a few croutons, if you like.
The tomatoes shine through brilliantly in this soup. It looks a bit like a light cream of tomato, but is infinitely healthier. The little bit of chilli powder you add, coupled with the peppercorns give the soup a deep heat that rise up on your tongue just behind the piquant sweet and sour taste of the tomato and honey, rounding off the flavour nicely. Wonderful as this is served over rice, as a soup it acquires an unadulterated dimension, the tomatoes singing in your mouth with each spoonful. The coconut milk gives the entire thing a silky smooth finish, barely there as it is. I worked my way through two and a half bowls without pause. It was impossible to put down the spoon. Amey was over the moon as he worked his way through the rest of it, mopping up remaining splashes with the piece of bread we didn’t bake into croutons. I’m sure this would taste just as great served cold.
It may be a real summer where you are. Even so, if you find yourself in possession of a few tomatoes and at a loss of something new to do with them, give this recipe a try. Summer tomatoes are so rarely turned into a soup, even though they do very well as one. This recipe celebrates it as well as your favourite tomato standby. It will not disappoint.