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Thakkali Thokku: South Indian Tomato Relish

With the flavor intensity of sun-dried tomatoes, reinforced with rich sesame oil and the bright pungency of Tamil spices, this is currently my favorite thing on Earth!   On roast veggies.  Mixed into rice or chick peas.  On a hot dog.  With cornbread.  Like ketchup on eggs.  Mixed into yogurt for a spicy-yet-cooling sauce.  Or for an apocalyptically flavorful pizza.

This recipe is adapted from the kitchen of Mrs. Revathy Ramani in Chennai, who made it clear to me that she makes it differently every time.  Some versions use tamarind to make the relish tart; also so it keeps longer.  I prefer my thokku without.  Like basil pesto, thokku is a great way to preserve summer’s bounty; it’s a treat to discover that last, lost jar at the back of your freezer in January.

6 Tbsp sesame oil (not toasted)

4 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp turmeric powder

Red chili powder to taste (about 2 tsp)

1 fat pinch hing, aka asafoetida

2 tsp fenugreek powder

24 fresh curry leaves


3 lb fresh tomatoes, chopped, peel on

1 tsp good salt, optional

2 tsp cumin powder

Tamarind paste (optional)

Heat half the sesame oil in heavy-bottom pot big enough for the whole recipe.    Add the mustard seeds.  When they begin to sputter, add the hing, and the curry leaves.  When the curry leaves begin to crisp slightly, dump in the tomatoes.   Bring to boil, add the cumin, turmeric, salt and red chili powder.  Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring every 5 minutes until the liquid evaporates and an oil sheen appears on top.  Depending on how ripe and juicy your tomatoes were, this will run 20-45 minutes.

Add the fenugreek and the rest of the oil.  Stir a few times, and cook a few more minutes.   Test for salt. If your tomatoes were super-ripe and sweet, or if you prefer a tangier sauce, add some tamarind paste now. 

Some people will also add a pinch (or more) of salt.  Kala namak, or Himalayan black salt, is especially authentic, and adds its own pungent flavor and aroma.”

Store in sterile glass container.  Use a clean spoon each time, and it can keep for up to two weeks in the fridge. 

Yes, use organic ingredients.  Yes, we have all these herbs and spices in our store just awaiting for you!

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