Almost Perfect Tomato Achar
Almost Perfect Tomato Achar is a staple condiment made with tomatoes and preserved in oil and spices. It’s a 3-step process which are explained in detail below.
I grew up eating achar in Nepal, especially the spicy mango & stuffed chili pepper kind my grand mother made seasonally. I still remember her lining trays with fruits and vegetables and letting them sun-dry in Summer months and the aroma of different spices & oils would linger in our house for weeks. While growing up, I had no interest in cooking nor I cared to learn about family-recipes like the aforementioned achars. She stopped making achars many years ago and I have a huge regret for not appreciating them more and jotting down the recipe/methods to continue the tradition.
To those who are not familiar with achar - it’s a staple condiment in South Asia often made with fruits or vegetables. They can be sweet, spicy, or sour with a different combination of spices, herbs, and flavors. You will find people use the term achar and chutney loosely and sometimes interchangeably because there are different methods of preparation and regional differences. In Nepal, we call anything pickled - cooked, fresh, or fermented as achar such as Mula ko Achar (Nepali Fermented Radish Pickle). The sauce I serve alongside mo:mo is also called tomato achar but it’s completely different in terms of ingredients and preparation.
The “Almost Perfect Tomato Achar” recipe I am sharing is not from my grandmother or my family. It is a recipe shared by the boyfriend’s mother who got it from her older sister. Like all mom’s, she is an intuitive cook and I watched her make this tomato achar once. I thought I had somewhat memorized the methods & ingredients and re-confirmed with her but guys, it didn’t quite turn out like hers. I am going to continue working on this recipe which is why I named it Almost Perfect Tomato Achar but it’s seriously unlike any other tomato achars I have had before - it’s perfectly tomatoey, garlicky, and addictively delicious!
Making Almost Perfect Tomato Achar is a three step process. It’s not complicated by any means but it does requires a bit of patience and your time.
Step 1 : Cook the tomatoes & reduce it down, which takes about 45 minutes - 1 hour or more depending on the amount of tomatoes. I believe you can use microwave to cut down on time but I haven’t tried it myself. If I try it in the future, I will be sure to come back and update the post.
Step 2 : Add spices such as ginger garlic paste, salt, & turmeric to the tomato. It needs to cooked further about 30-45 minutes more in a low heat. There should be no bubbles/moisture left in tomatoes.
Step 3: Last step involves frying garlic cloves and round dried whole chilies in oil until they turn dark. Furthermore, you will have to fry mustard seeds and curry leaves, both of which can be found at an Indian grocery store. I think this is a really crucial step as garlic can quick turn from being pleasant dark brown to burnt and black. Also, make sure mustard seeds pop and start dancing before you pour the oil mixture into the pot with tomatoes.
Unlike the vinegar based pickles, achars use oil as a preservative and they can be kept outside without refrigeration for a long time as long as you don’t cross contaminate it. You can enjoy Almost Perfect Tomato Achar as a condiment, spread it on a toast, make grilled cheese, mix it with your pizza or pasta sauce, make it part of a cheese/charcuterie board or top daal or soup with it.
Almost Perfect Tomato Achar
Yield: about 2 cups
10 roma tomatoes, seeds scooped and chopped into small pieces
1 teaspoon ginger and garlic paste (I used minced garlic and ginger which is why you can see white specks)
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
salt, to taste
2 tablespoon neutral oil such as canola
6 garlic cloves
6 dried whole chili
1 teaspoon cumin seed (I didn’t add to this batch but later I found out it is included in the recipe)
1 heaping teaspoon black mustard seeds
5-6 fresh curry leaves
1. In a medium sauce pan, cook chopped tomatoes over medium heat until it reduces down.
Stir occasionally as it will start to thicken and start sticking to the pan. Depending on the tomatoes, it can take anywhere from 45 minutes - 1 hour. Also, keep an eye and adjust the heat level to low-medium if needed.
2. Add ginger-garlic paste, turmeric powder, red chili powder, and salt to the pan and cook it further to almost like a paste consistency. You should see no more liquid in the pan. This takes another 30-45 minutes over low-medium heat. Turn off the heat.
In another small pan, heat oil and fry garlic cloves and dried red chili until they turn dark brown but not burnt. Add cumin seeds, mustard seeds to the pan and curry leaves until mustard seeds start to pop and does a little dance.
3. Pour the hot oil mixture over the tomato paste and stir everything. Adjust salt per taste.
Transfer the tomato achar into a clear jar with a lid.
4. Keep the jar outside in a cool area or store in the fridge and enjoy.
Do you have a family recipe you LOVE?
Thoughts on achars? Do you have a fav. kind?