This time four years ago, I was in India, on leave from my newspaper job and working as a volunteer English teacher.
I was newly married, but living apart from my husband, in convents among nuns. Paul held down the fort back at home.
When I left India at the end of my volunteer stint, it was with the certainty that I would one day go back. I still hope I will, but so much about my life has changed in the intervening years and right now any return trip seems an awfully long way off.
These days, the closest I come to a return to India is at the dinner table.
This tomato curry reminds me of all the amazing food I ate in the northwestern state of Gujarat, during a few days of vacation just before I returned home to the United States. Gujarat is one of my favorite places in India — it’s one of my favorite places in the world, actually — a fascinating stretch of unspoiled beaches, vast salt plains, beautiful architecture and skilled artisans.
And the food! The food is amazing. Many people associate Indian cuisine with fiery spices, but Gujarati cooks seem to embrace a wide array of flavors and a single meal might includes dishes that are salty, sweet, hot and sour in various combinations.
This curry is typical of Gujarat, in that it incorporates a little sugar into an otherwise savory dish. There, something like this would likely be served alongside several other dishes, probably including some sort of beans or lentils, rice, and various vegetable preparations.
I rarely have the time to prepare such a multifaceted meal, so I added cubes of tofu to the curry make it feel more complete. You could certainly throw in some homemade paneer instead. We ate this alongside store-bought naan and last summer’s pickled okra for a perfect quick dinner. I happily heated up the leftovers for lunch along with some extra farro and lentils left hanging around from a previous meal.
I usually start making dinner about 30 minutes before we plan to sit down and eat and it’s easy to fall into a rut when my main goals are to get something family-friendly and reasonably healthy on the table in a short amount of time. I like trying new things, but the truth is that we fall back on old-favorites a lot.
Also, I don’t think I’ve blogged about this before, but we’re expecting another baby soon — a little sister for E. I was recently diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which means I have to eat pretty carefully and my dinnertime choices are more limited than before. I need to balance my carb intake with lots and lots of protein, so no more big bowls of creamy pasta for the time being.
I had gestational diabetes with my first pregnancy too, and sometimes struggled to find good meal options. Working out which recipes would have the appropriate amount of carbs relative to protein, fiber and so on could get complicated and, in the end, I grudgingly ate a lot of processed food because reading labels was easier than analyzing recipes.
This time around, I’ve been determined to stick with eating as much “real food” as possible. I don’t want to start feeding E a lot of processed crap just because it makes things easier for me.
Fortunately, this sweet and sour curry works within my new dietary restrictions. It’s also quick to prepare, interesting enough for the grown ups at the table and not too spicy for the resident toddler. It’s definitely a new favorite and one I’ll be happy to fall back on, time and time again.
Adapted from "At Home with Madhur Jaffrey."
Sometimes I find Indian food a little fussy to prepare, especially since most recipes include a long list of ingredients, some of which can be hard to track down. So I was skeptical when I saw this one described as something that would come together in just 10 minutes, but it does (and I tend be cooking amid a lot of distractions).
I've made this with both fresh and canned tomatoes and, while both versions were good, I prefer it with fresh ones. Out of season, I find that cherry tomatoes are usually more acceptable than the full-sized specimens.
Also, I make this with a generous 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne and find that that's the perfect amount of spice for us, just enough to keep things lively without putting off the toddler at the table. Having said that, if you aren't feeding little kids, you might want to rachet up the spice level just a bit.
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/8 teaspoon ground asafetida (sometimes called hing instead)
- 1 teaspoon whole black or yellow mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 2 pounds medium-sized tomatoes, quartered, OR cherry tomatoes, halved, OR one 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes
- 1 package of firm or extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into bite-sized cubes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground numeric
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar (I only had light brown, so I used that along with a tiny drizzle of molasses)
- 1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the asafetida, mustard seeds and cumin seeds. You may want to use a splatter screen or partially cover the pan because the mustard seeds will quickly begin to pop.
As soon as the mustard seeds start popping, add the tomatoes and the cubed tofu. If using canned tomatoes, use your fingers to tear the tomatoes into large pieces and make sure to add any liquid from the can as well.
Stir once or twice and add the salt, turmeric and cayenne. Stir. If using fresh tomatoes, add 3 tablespoons of water. Omit the water if using canned tomatoes.
Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Jaffrey says to cover, but I leave mine uncovered and like the slightly thicker result.
Stir in the sugar (and molasses, if using) and ginger. Taste, correcting seasonings if necessary, and cook for another 2-3 minutes before serving.