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Cook with feeling and ketchup

It is probably the only ingredient in the world to have all five taste sensations—sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami

Comforting baked pasta. (Photo: Nandita Iyer)
Comforting baked pasta. (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

Tomato ketchup is the easiest way to add depth of flavour to savoury dishes in mere seconds. Despite not being an Indian condiment, it pairs perfectly with all manner of Indian snacks like samosas, pakoras, cutlets and alu tikkis. There is a valid reason for its global popularity. It is probably the only ingredient in the world to have all five taste sensations—sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami; all five tastes combined in the perfect proportions make for the most delicious taste experience. That’s how a squirt of ketchup makes any bland food instantly palatable.

Contrary to popular belief, ketchup is not American in origin. It goes back to 300 BC China and no tomatoes were used in this condiment because until the 16th century, tomatoes weren’t eaten outside South America.

The word ketchup comes from the Hokkien Chinese word kê-tsiap, a fermented fish sauce that travelled with the traders from Vietnam to south-eastern China, from where it spread to Indonesia and the Philippines. British traders acquired a taste for this sauce around the start of the 18th century and tried to replicate it locally, using ingredients like mushrooms, walnuts, oysters or anchovies to get the deeply savoury flavour. No tomatoes were used.

Also read: How asafoetida enlivens recipes

It was in 1876 that American chemist Harvey Washington Wiley partnered with entrepreneur Henry Heinz to produce tomato ketchup. And it gradually found a place in nearly every kitchen. If you want to try the Heinz copycat recipe at home, combine tomato paste, liquid glucose, sugar, salt, vinegar, onion powder and garlic powder in a pan. Simmer until thick and bottle it.

I am sharing two comfort food recipes in which tomato ketchup adds much deliciousness. The pasta bake has a longer list of ingredients than my usual recipes, but mostly things you will find at home. I recommend you make a double batch and send one to a friend or a neighbour who could do with a comforting meal. The chilli paneer gets ready in minutes. Served on a pile of steamed rice, it makes for a quick meal.


Serves 6


3 cups macaroni pasta

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp sliced garlic

1 large onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 yellow bell pepper, diced

1 small bunch spinach, chopped

3 tbsp tomato ketchup

1 tsp dried herbs (basil, oregano)

Quarter cup grated pizza cheese (or more)

2-3 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil

For the tomato sauce

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp finely chopped garlic

2-3 tbsp finely chopped onions

3 cups tomato puree

2 tbsp tomato ketchup

1 tsp salt

For the cheesy sauce

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp refined flour (maida)

1 cup milk

Quarter cup grated mozzarella (or any other cheese)

Quarter tsp each salt and pepper


Boil 2 litres of water in a large pan and cook the macaroni as per pack instructions. Drain and keep aside.

In a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic along with the chopped onions and bell peppers. Sauté for 1-2 minutes on high heat. Lower the heat and cook for another five-seven minutes until the onions are soft. Add the spinach and stir on a high flame for a minute.

To this, add 3 tbsp tomato ketchup, cooked macaroni and dried herbs. Mix gently until well combined.

To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a pan. Sauté the garlic and onions over low heat for five-six minutes. Add all the remaining ingredients and simmer for seven-eight minutes over low heat.

To make the cheesy sauce, heat butter in a pan and stir in maida. Keep stirring on low heat for two-three minutes. Add the milk in with constant whisking to prevent lumps. Season with salt and pepper. Allow the sauce to come to a simmer and thicken. Add the grated cheese and whisk well until combined.

In a large baking tray (glass/ceramic/metal), add half the macaroni vegetable mix and even it out. Cover with quarter cup grated cheese and half the tomato sauce. Layer the remaining macaroni over this. Top this with alternating strips of tomato and cheesy sauce, or alternating spoonfuls to get a cobblestone-like effect. Sprinkle some fresh basil over this. At this point, you can either cover with a foil and refrigerate or freeze, or proceed to bake it in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes. Cover the tray with foil while baking so as to not dry it out. Serve hot.

* Use any mix of vegetables at hand

* Use 1 tsp dried basil instead of fresh basil.


Chilli Paneer. (Photo: Nandita Iyer)
Chilli Paneer. (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

Serves 2


200g paneer slab

2 tbsp tomato ketchup

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp white vinegar

Quarter tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp sesame seeds

1 tbsp oil

1 tbsp chopped garlic

4-5 sprigs spring-onion greens, cut into 2-inch lengths

1 capsicum (or 2 banana peppers), cut into strips

1 tsp cornflour


Slice the paneer slab into eight long pieces. In a deep dish, combine ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, chilli powder and sesame seeds. Coat the paneer pieces in this and keep aside for 15 minutes.

In a pan, heat the oil. Fry the garlic for a few seconds. Add the spring onion greens and capsicum (or chilli). Toss on a high flame for one-two minutes.

To this, add the marinated paneer pieces and combine gently. To the leftover marinade in the dish, add three tablespoons water and the cornflour. Mix to get a slurry and pour it into the pan. Mix the paneer along with all the other ingredients over a medium flame so that the slurry forms a thick glaze.

Remove into a dish and serve as a starter or along with fried rice.

* Try the same with tofu or boiled potatoes cut into wedges.

Also read: Add curry leaves and creative flair to your cooking

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book, Everyday Superfoods, released recently.


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