Monday, July 29, 2013

Tomato Pachadi


A few blocks from my condo there’s a corner store that sells lottery tickets, liquor, and an odd mix of pantry items. Every few months, I stop by to purchase a phone card to call India. The proprietor has dense black hair and a bushy mustache (like many of my uncles). I pegged him as a Keralite at first sight. 


Not surprisingly, he looked skeptical when I mentioned my Indian roots. Nearly everyone assumes I am Hispanic (although I’ve also been dubbed Italian, Middle Eastern, and even Irish (?) over the years). He warmed up when I mentioned preparing sambar, idli, and other everyday South Indian dishes. As our conversation continued, we both waxed on about the allure of spicy food and a dreamy look covered his face. By the time I walked out, I’d earned his approval despite my Midwestern accent and fair complexion. 


A few months later I returned for another phone card.  I was looking forward to having another food-focused conversation. Perhaps he would even share some recipes. When our eyes met, the owner gave me guarded look. I mentioned being Malayalee again and he responded with disbelief, “You’re Malayalee!?!”Clearly too much time had passed since our last encounter.  

I quickly refocused the conversation on my mom’s tomato pachadi – a spicy yogurt-based dish.  His body relaxed and a warm smile covered his face. Once again, I had earned his friendship. 



Serves 4

This tangy yogurt dish is best prepared with vine-ripened summer tomatoes. Because it’s full-flavored, I like to pair it with plain rice for a light, but hearty vegetarian meal.   


2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 tablespoon skinned and split urad dhal (black gram)
3/4 tablespoon minced ginger
½ cup finely chopped onions
2 small dried red chilies
1 cup finely diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 cup low-fat yogurt
¾ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin


Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, add the urad dhal and dried red chilies and stir. (For extra heat, tear the dried red chilies apart before adding them.)

When the urad dhal turns honey brown, add the onions and ginger. Stir frequently, until the onions become translucent (about 5 minutes). 

Add the tomatoes and stir until they soften, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the cilantro and cool completely.

Place the yogurt in a medium size bowl and mix in the tomatoes. Add the salt, garlic powder, cumin, and stir. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve cold. 

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