One major battle that is constantly on going between me and my kitchen helpers is that of the hybrid tomato vs the country tomato.The so called ‘apple thakkali’ seems to have slowly but steadily usurped the place of the ‘nattu thakkali ‘ mainly because of it’s size and bright red colour.The orangish-green nattu thakali with slight ridges at the crown is considered quite ‘pale in comparison’.
The fact that Indian cuisine existed without the inclusion of the tomato is something most people find hard to believe.Despite having it’s origins in Spain,the tomato has now become a vital ingredient to Indian cuisine and is cultivated extensively across the country.
But the tomato that is commonly used today in most homes is a far cry from the native variety,especially in terms of taste and nutrition.Why is it that people want produce to be sweeter ?Shouldn’t we embrace flavours that naturally occur in fruit and vegetables. If it’s sour then we must allow our taste buds to get used to it rather than trying to make it taste different.By seeking food that is in fact a product of a process cultivated by man ,do we stop to think what the repercussions maybe of eating something that deviates from it’s natural characteristics ?
People whose voices are considered to be important in the culinary world are shouting from the rooftops to be heard. They all agree that a link must be made between mindful eating ,comprising of consciously sourced produce and healthful living. On a recent episode of Masterchef Australia, a professional cook chose to hero the tomato as his main ingredient rather than as an accompaniment. In Italy,for example,folks talk of tasting the sun in a ripened tomato.
They aren’t being dramatic, raise a tomato bed and you will know what they mean.To pluck a ripe tomato off the vine is such a happy chore.So many people have developed an affinity for cooking with tomatoes once involved in growing their own.A favourite breakfast at home is undoubtedly fried eggs and toast with a side of grilled tomatoes. The joy of walking out into the balcony in the first light of morning sun,plucking that tomato,rinsing it with a little water before adding it to the hot pan is such a blessed feeling !Without exaggeration, it is the nattu thakkali that always grills to perfection. It gets the right bit of char on the cut sides,and the skin gets all bursty,leading to juicy -olive oil soaked insides. All it needs is a seasoning of salt, freshly cracked pepper, dried oregano and it tastes simply amazing.The natural sourness of the nattu thakkali cuts through the richness of the egg yolk perfectly and balances it all out.
The upside of growing your own tomato is that you also have the option of picking it green to make a tasty salad or even better a tangy green tomato pappu (dhal). Bite into a hybrid green tomato and all that you get will be a bland insipidness.Still not convinced,try making a tomato rasam with both varities of tomatoes; the taste of the nattu thakali rasam will have a delicious balance of flavours !
Another truth about the country variety is that the concentration of antioxidants are much more potent.Lycopene which is naturally present in the tomato gets further activated during the cooking process and has various health benefits for the body. These heirloom varieties are also more resilient to pest attacks considering that the seeds have survived for centuries.Traditional recipes containing the tomato do for the most part include a big pinch of jaggery (as a balancing agent),which again is high in minerals unlike the refined sugars. Increasing demand for hybrid crops do in turn take a toll on the land and have an effect on the ecological balance of all creatures concerned.Help yourselves by helping the farmer stay true to sustainable agricultural practices.
The thing is , we don’t really have to break our heads searching for healthful eating habits.What we can focus on instead is a slight shift in thinking when it comes to our every day foods. An occasional acai berry or alfalfa sprout may not have a huge impact on our daily health but a locally grown nattu thakkali sure will !