I have always wondered if green tomatoes are just unripe red tomatoes or a variety unto themselves. Now I know that both varieties exist. There are heirloom varieties of green tomatoes that are green when fully ripe, the flesh feeling soft when pressed. Then there are the unripe red varieties that feel quite firm and solid, and, left long enough to ripen, will turn red.
Tomatoes are rich in alkaloids like solanine and tomatine, some of which are considered slightly toxic in very high doses. In this case, the toxicity could cause acidity, stomach discomfort or headaches in sensitive people. These alkaloids are heat resistant and will not get deactivated on cooking. As the fruit ripens, the toxicity in the alkaloids drops.
A good way to cook with green tomatoes is to roast them in the oven or air fryer until blistered on the outside. Peel the skin and mash the tomato flesh. Combine with finely chopped onions, coriander, jalapeños and salt. Use just enough lime juice, given that green tomatoes are already quite tart. One of the most popular southern American recipes using green tomatoes is the crumbed and fried green tomatoes. These are often served alongside burgers or sandwiches. Thick slices of green tomatoes are dredged in flour, egg mixture and then cornmeal, in that order, to get the crunchy outer layer and deep fried until crisp. My upgrade on this idea would be to sandwich a slice of mozzarella cheese between two thinner slices of tomato and then proceed with the coating, crumbing and frying. The end result is a crisp outside and a gooey, melting cheese layer inside.
Wedges of green tomatoes tossed in olive oil and roasted can be used in a salad along with crumbled goat’s cheese and candied walnuts with a chilli-cumin dressing for an irresistible sweet-salty-tart combination.
During February-March, green tomatoes are in season in India and there are many Indian recipes that do justice to their unique flavour. The chutney recipe I am sharing with you today is from north Karnataka. I happened to taste this a few years ago at my friend and neighbour Renu’s home. It had an addictive complex flavour, and it was quite difficult to pinpoint the ingredients. My friend was kind enough to share the recipe, which has a rather small list of ingredients—each one, however, packs a punch. The combination of tart green tomatoes with toasted sesame seeds and herbaceous coriander leaves comes together beautifully in this chutney, which can be had with hearty jowar or ragi rotis or mixed with rice and ghee.
The chutney also works well as a condiment for a Buddha bowl or a salad bowl.
My other recipe is for a delicious fermented hot sauce, which is a great way to preserve my home-grown green tomatoes for months.
GREEN TOMATO CHUTNEY
Makes 1 cup
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp oil, divided (gingelly is preferable)
3 green chillies, halved
1.5 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium-bunch coriander, chopped
5 medium green tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp salt
2 tsp grated jaggery
Half tsp mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
In a pan, toast the sesame seeds until they start popping. Remove this into a bowl.
In the same pan, heat 1 tsp oil and fry the chopped green chillies for a minute or so until they turn whitish on the outside. Reduce the flame, add the cumin seeds and fry for a few seconds.
Switch off the flame and add the chopped coriander. Stir for a few seconds until it wilts slightly. Remove the contents of the pan in a bowl.
In the same pan, heat 1 tsp oil. Stir-fry the green tomatoes with half the salt until they are somewhat soft. This takes six-seven minutes. Do not let it turn completely mushy. Allow this to cool.
In a food processor or mixer jar, combine the chilli-cumin-coriander mixture, toasted sesame seeds and cooked tomatoes along with remaining salt and jaggery. Grind to a paste without adding any water. Transfer into a serving bowl.
Heat the remaining 1 tsp oil in a small pan. Fry mustard seeds and curry leaves and top the green tomato chutney with this tempering. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Use within two days.
LACTO FERMENTED GREEN TOMATO HOT SAUCE
Makes around 1 cup
4 medium green tomatoes, chopped
10-12 hot green chillies, sliced
6 cloves garlic, sliced
2.5 tsp rock salt
Place a clean glass jar on a kitchen scale. Tare the scale (to bring it to zero, so that the weight of the jar is not calculated). Add chopped tomatoes, chillies and garlic. Add enough water in the jar to submerge all the ingredients. Note the weight of the combined water plus ingredients in the jar. The quantity of salt to be used is 3% of this combined weight. In my recipe, the combined weight of the chopped ingredients and water was 410g. I used 13g of salt.
Tare the scales, add the required quantity of salt and mix. Press down the ingredients. There should be at least one-inch headspace above the liquid level. Ensure the ingredients stay below the water surface. You can do this using a square of banana leaf/cabbage leaf or the top slice of a bell pepper with the stem attached. Keep the jar tightly shut. Label and keep in a cool dark place in your kitchen for three weeks (anything over 10 days is fine) to allow the fermentation of the ingredients.
After three weeks, transfer the solids to a blender jar. Blend with as much of the liquid as per the consistency of the sauce desired. Transfer into a clean dry bottle using a funnel. Keep refrigerated and use in salads, as a condiment for sandwiches and burgers, etc. This sauce will stay for a few months in the refrigerator.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book, Everyday Superfoods, will be out in March. She tweets at @saffrontrail