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Saturday, November 29, 2014

It’s the mighty potato or the omnipresent onion, that have reigned supreme in their dominance over every cuisine....and even the very existence of mankind.

Onions may be one of the earliest cultivated crops because they were less perishable than other foods of the time, transportable, easy to grow, and adapted to a variety of soils and climates. Vedic records, Egyptian and Chinese history has evidence of the cultivation as far back as 5000BC…and today we have setup Directorates of Onion Research, National Onion Association and so on; to study and foster this Allium sp. So clearly it has its place where no other meager ingredient dares to venture.

Since the Inca civilization- the Andean Altiplano (Andes High Plateau)– lying between Bolivia and Peru; is hailed as the birthplace of the well traveled potato. The potato flower in Louis XVI’s buttonhole, a species that had crossed the Atlantic from Peru, was both an emblem of the Colombian exchange and an encouragement to cultivators. The crop were the survival kit for the race during the little ice-age and hence forth has been practically nurturing humanity.


I want to distract you from these two Goliaths of our eating past, present and future and set your eyes to the this ornamental climber which has risen from the infamous ‘Wolf Peach’(lycopersicon) to the ‘Apple of Love’ (pomme d’amour).

Folklore had it that tomatoes were poisonous - that would turn your blood to acid!! In fact, their acidity would cause the Lead - in the pewter flatware of the rich and royals, to leech into the foods resulting in Lead poisoning and death. The peasants however, (who could not afford pewter!!) had no aversion to this red ‘fruit’.

Fruit or vegetable is another interesting debate, and botanists and horticulturist, akin have their rule books out in a matter of seconds. However, the tax implications under them ‘Mongrel Tariff’ Act (1883), which taxed vegetables and NOT fruit, being imported in to the States; aroused a more serious debate. The supreme court (10 May 1893) had to officially classify Tomato as a vegetable much to the dismay of the importers, viz; Nix and family, who had filed suit against the port collectors to recover the duties paid for their imported tomatoes, arguing that since tomatoes are, botanically speaking, a fruit, the tariff did not apply !!

There are numerous tomato varietals( ) some of which were unnamed and untapped for years and are now being given due diligence by cultivators and chefs around the globe.

The sugar-acid balance helps to bring the best even the blandest of ingredients (imagine eating a boiled aubergine with/without tomato). Henry J Hienz, identified this as early as 1876 and today is one of the World’s most Valuable Brands(#96 Forbes list) with over $11.2b net worth!!

Like with any other ingredient; water is the culprit, which dilutes the flavours and as you keep cooking (evaporating the water) the intensity keeps getting pronounced. Raw being one end of the spectrum and dehydrated being the other. From a cooks stand point there are numerous things one can conceive with tomatoes as it can give various dimensions to your food starting from

raw as a salad, with the heirlooms back in fad!

blended to form silky passata

slightly cooked for juicy salsas, compotes

completely cooked for that sweetness in sauces

as a concentrated paste to get the intensity

sun-dried to get a texture and depth

dehydrated to intensify flavours

Coming down to the question of cuisine - pick any and name a few dishes from the region, and you would hit on at least a few with tomatoes in it. Margarita, arabiata, cacciatore, meatballs, sauce vierge, makhani, kadhai, sweet n sour, salsas, even bloody mary..!!

The list can go on but I am sure you got your own!

Culinary speaking I am intrigued, fascinated and in awe of this vitamin source, mineral rich, low Sodium, zero cholesterol, high fiber fruiting body!

I see it as an artists' black felt pen, outlining and highlighting the rest of the painting!

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