This sensationally rich and unctuous tomato dish has its origins in India. There it is known as tamtar kasaundi or tomato oil pickle. It really is incomparable to any tomato-based sauce you may have tried before - it has an incredible depth of mysterious flavours that are amazingly distinct, yet at the same time seamlessly blend with one another. It is one of those dishes that cause punters to ask - my God, what is this stuff?
The preparation is fairly straight forward, although you will need a blender to make it. The only real commitment you need to make is time - it does take several hours to cook. The spices and aromatics are first gently cooked until they begin to caramelise and gain an amazing depth of flavour. Then you add the tomatoes and simmer until the lot has become as rich and dark as jam, with amazing flavours leaping out at you - the heat of chilli, the sharp tang of vinegar, the mellow earthiness of cumin and turmeric, the jammy sweetness of palm sugar and the wonderful flavour of tomatoes.
In India this dish would be served in much the same manner as all Indian pickles; that is as an accompaniment to the main dish with naan or paratha bread. Fortunately, tomato kasundi has many uses in the kitchen. I almost never use it in the traditional Indian manner. Try adding it to a pot full of fresh mussels or clams, with a dash of fish stock and a handful of raw couscous. It makes a sensational partner for a piece of grilled fish or chicken, just add a wedge of lemon or lime. Believe it or not - it is also wonderful in sandwiches. Here's how to.
1 Tbs black mustard seeds
125 ml (1/2 cup) malt vinegar
60 gm ginger, peeled and chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled
5 long mild red chillies, chopped (remove seeds if you want a milder dish)
125 ml (1/2 cup) vegetable oil
30 gm (1 oz) fresh turmeric, peeled and chopped or 1 Tbs ground turmeric
3 Tbs ground cumin
125 gm (1/4 lb) palm sugar, grated
50 ml (2 fl oz) fish sauce, or 1 Tbs sea salt for vegetarians
1 kg (2 lbs) ripe tomatoes
You will need to start 1 day ahead. Place the mustard seeds in a small bowl and cover with the vinegar. Let them soak overnight; this will make them nice and soft and ensure that they blend up nicely.
Next day, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Cut a little cross into the top of the tomatoes and plunge into the boiling water. Leave for 60 seconds, then drain, placing the hot tomatoes into a large pot of cold water to stop the cooking.
Place all the ingredients, except the tomatoes into a blender and whiz until they are all well puréed. Do this in batches if need be. Place in a large heavy-based saucepan that is not made from aluminium. Stainless steel or enameled cast iron is perfect. Bring very gently to the simmer, and then reduce the heat to the very lowest setting. Cook, stirring occasionally for 40 minutes. Be careful that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. After half an hour or so the colour will be very dark and it will have a jammy consistency.
In the meantime, remove the tomatoes from the water and slip off the skins. Cut them in half and squeeze out most of the seeds. Chop the tomato flesh into rough cubes and add to the spice mix in the pan once it has cooked for 40 minutes.
Stir thoroughly and bring once again to the simmer. Set to the lowest heat, and cook for 3 hours, stirring from time to time. The oil will separate to the surface and the colour will turn a very deep reddish brown - the kitchen will smell wonderful.
Remove from the heat, cool, and pack into glass jars. This quantity will make around 750 ml (3 cups). Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, and yes, it improves with age.