Every year my Mother makes huge lots of pickles during the Summer and Winter. Summers are meant of hot raw mango avakkaya pickle, and Winters witness the making of tomato thokku. Come November and we see a major drop in the price of vegetables and an upward surge in their availability. Winter also ensures that the vegetables are fresh and healthy looking unlike their tired and drained Summer counterparts.
This Winter we did not make a visit to Bangalore like we usually do, partly because of the odd school schedule, and partly because we just made a long visit during Diwali. As a result we missed out on my Mother’s usual 3 jars of tomato thokku which she prepares during my stay there. Indians I tell you, just cannot do without a dash of hot pickle. It is not as though we eat it in major helpings but a lick of it every now and then makes a lot of difference especially because I am not huge on spicy food and the dishes I prepare for lunch or dinner are bland – not exactly spice less but not hot or very spicy either as Indian cooking is made out to be in food programs.
We also have varied pickling processes – sometimes mangoes are pickled in chunks and sometimes they are grated and then pickled. The grated varieties fall in the category of ‘thokku’ in Tamil. ‘Thokku’ usually cannot be stored for too long and are made in small quantities and refrigerated after use.Tomato Thokku is my favourite as it has varied uses – it serves as a tasty accompaniment by itself, ground with some pine nuts it forms a spicy vegan pesto and also serves as great sandwich spread. I have tried it all these forms but mostly it gets over soon because I end up using it in a lot of curries when I run short of time. Each household has its own recipe for a thokku but the base is the same. The only variation comes in the form of addition of mustard powder, use of oil (more or less) and chilli powder. I get my red chilli powder from Fort in Mumbai. Mine is a personal blend of highly pungent chilli powder variety with a variety of paprika that imparts a bright red color. This way even a small amount (I use lesser than most people) ensures a good color while keeping the spice level adequate for me.This thokku is very addictive. Believe me, even if you say no to pickles you will never stop with a dash when you try this. Besides it is so easy even a novice cannot go wrong.
Yield: I used about 1.5 kgs of ripe tomatoes and the end product was only about 200g
Recipe: Thakkali thokku | Tomato pickle – Tamil Nadu Style
Tomatoes (Firm, ripe red juicy ones) – 1.5 kgs.
Red Chilli Powder – As per taste I used about 1/4 to 1/2 cup
Salt – To taste (Keep it a little higher as it is also a preservative here, best would be rock salt)
Oil – 3/4 cup (Use 1/4 in the beginning and add 1/4 in the end) I used sesame oil (Idhayam brand)
Chop tomatoes roughly. Taste and see – If it is not tangy you can add 1/8 cup of tamarind extract for the tang. Our tomatoes at this time of the year taste great – they are tangy and sweet at the same time.
Heat 1/4 cup oil in a wide wok or kadhai. When the oil turns hot (not smoking), add the tomatoes. Stir well and let cook. Cover with a lid that allows some steaming or alternately you can cook without a lid and keep stirring. This is messy so I go for the former. If you do not have a lid with a steam outlet, you could cover the wok with a big lid and pour a teaspoon of water over it to prevent burning.
Stir every now and then cooking on low fire. It takes nearly 40minutes to an hour for the juice to dry up.
When the juices dry add salt, chilli powder and extra oil and mix ensuring that the mixture doesn’t stick to the vessel and that the oil remains oozing in the periphery.
Remove and store in a clean, dry airtight bottle.
This should yield about 200 to 250 grams, and it gets used up pretty soon.
Do not scrooge on the oil – I have used very less as it is. This with the salt acts as a preservative else your thokku is likely to get spoilt soon.