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A tale of tomatoes

March 21, 2011

…and Madhur Jaffrey’s tomato-lentil soup.

Home-grown tomato cut in half

Well this is embarrassing.  I went to take a picture of the last few remaining spoonfuls of tomato and lentil soup and found that my husband had taken it off to work for his lunch.  It wasn’t the most photogenic soup to be honest but the layers of spicy, rich flavours meant that it lasted for one supper only with bowls wiped clean with crusty bread.

The recipe is from Madhur Jaffrey’s newest cook book Curry Easy which I bought at the Emirates Festival of Literature last weekend.  But this story really starts with tomatoes.  My aforementioned husband, KP,  makes a brave effort to grow tomatoes every year.  Despite the fact that buying the potting compost and seeds, planting, staking and feeding are usually done by someone else he shows off ‘my tomatoes’ to anyone who has the misfortune to put a toe into our garden when he’s around.  Sadly, mainly due to our garden facing North, ‘our’ tomato growing history has been patchy.  This year however, KP has stepped up the ante and has been very hands-on with the plants; pruning, tying and even whispering encouragement to them himself.  He has even extended this tomato-growing onto his office balcony.  Fruit has emerged and each specimen that ripens is paraded round the house and eaten with relish (see picture above).  Until, that is,  my Twitter friend @boozychef sent me a Twitpic of her harvest.  KP was crestfallen.  She sent more pics;  he was in agony.


When we met up for the Madhur Jaffrey cookery demonstration she thrust a bulging bag of luscious ripe tomatoes into my hands ‘for KP’.

Madhur Jaffrey was bustling about finishing preparations for her demo.  The set up had been fraught with technical problems so things were whisked away to the hotel ovens, but she remained serene.  It was as though she was in a her own kitchen at home and she was chatting to friends, albeit 300 of us.

She explained the rationale behind her new book.  Her life, like all our lives, was too busy for her to cook traditional Indian food with all the browning (bhuno means brown), “browning the spices, browning the onions, browning the meat”.  She travelled through India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka looking for simpler recipes and adapted cooking techniques to make them “just as good, but simpler” while still achieving an authentic taste.  “We all look for a way to avoid the dreaded bhuno-ing” she quipped.

Madhut Jaffrey

The basis for many of her new recipes and the baked paté kebabs she demonstrated, is to marinate the meat in the fridge with all the seasonings and oven cook it in a deep baking tray.  She plated this up very elegantly with Peshawari red pepper chutney, onions rings (finely sliced, soaked in water and dried) and mint leaves.

The next dish was prawns with chilli and garlic.  “I asked for jumbo prawns, but these are really jumbo” she laughed holding up some enormous specimens. ” This is Dubai – like Texas..these are master prawns!”

She warned several times about adding too much salt, then we all laughed as she seemed to add a huge amount.  Questions to her included whether Indians de-seed their chillies (“no”) and whether it is bad to use ‘lazy’ ginger and garlic in jars “yes, very bad as preservative like vinegar is also used which upsets the balance of the dish.  There is nothing like fresh ginger, just grate it.  I often get my husband to do it for me…so find someone!”

Baked pate kebabs

We all rushed forward at the end of this thoroughly entertaining session eagerly hoping for a morsel as Madhur’s cooking scents had wafted toward us seductively.  Alas after a couple of photos she was whisked away for book signings and the food had disappeared.  All that remained was the single plated kebab portion.  “Can we eat that then?” I asked gingerly ” oh yes, said the assistant.”  I hesitated (how could I be the only person in 300 to taste Mrs Jaffrey’s cooking?) and was lost.  @boozychef leaned over and popped it into her mouth in one bite.  She declared it delicious (and not too salty either much to our astonishment).

I’ve cooked several things already from this book (@boozychef kindly braved the queues to have my copy signed)  and it’s already a great source of everyday meals.  With the soup I have tinkered even further with Madhur’s method.  To me there is nothing easy about pushing things through a sieve which she recommends to separate the whole spices.  To keep the excellent taste but achieve a nice texture I advise you to get one of those tea leaf devices on a chain to keep the whole spices separate but immersed.  And if you are not lucky enough to have home-grown tomatoes try to get the ripest you can find.

tea infuser

Tomato-lentil soup adapted slightly from Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Easy

Serves 4


800g tomatoes chopped
100g red lentils
475ml chicken stock or water (I used Marigold Swiss Bouillon vegetable stock)
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 small to medium onion finely chopped
2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 handful fresh coriander
10-15 fresh curry leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt

Put the whole spices, curry leaves and ginger into a tea-infuser. Put all the rest of the ingredients, except the salt, into a pan and bring to a simmer.  Immerse the tea-infuser into the soup.  Cover partially, turn the heat to low and simmer very gently for an hour.

Add the salt, stir and taste.  Remove the infuser and with a fork lift out as many of the tomato skins as you can (or have the patience for).  Mash gently with a potato masher or blend in bursts with a stick blender if you like your soup slightly smoother but make sure you retain some texture.  Reheat before serving if necessary, while stirring.

Thank you, thank you @boozychef. I think you should be guest posting on the DXB Gardener.

What are your tips for growing tomatoes (especially in the UAE)?

Keiths tomato

  1. March 21, 2011 1:21 pm

    You get to do some great stuff. I am rubbish at growing tomatoes. We don’t have enough sun so I have never made tomato soup. I like the tea hooha idea 🙂

    • March 24, 2011 9:32 am

      There is so much foodie stuff going on at the moment in Dubai not to mention a wealth of other things. But miss the countryside to unwind. Could do with a long walk in some greenery at the moment.

  2. March 21, 2011 1:26 pm

    You are very kind Sally 🙂 . I’m glad you enjoyed the tomatoes , as always I enjoyed reading your post. I will be doing a tomato dedicated post soon 😉 . You are truly simplistic & inspiring 🙂

    • March 24, 2011 9:33 am

      I’m indebted to you for so much.

  3. March 21, 2011 1:35 pm

    Your husband is lucky to have you as his “gardener”. 😉
    There is nothing quite like a fresh tomato soup – yummy!
    🙂 Mandy

    • March 24, 2011 9:34 am

      I must say he’s been much more hands-on this year and we have better tomatoes…so can’t take all the credit.

  4. March 21, 2011 2:18 pm

    i’m afraid i have no tomato growing tips for you. i wished i had attended madhur jaffrey’s session especially after the way you describe it. sounds like you had a ball 🙂

  5. March 21, 2011 3:12 pm

    Hi Sally,

    Thanks for the link! Some tips I can give on growing tamaters here in Dubai and the region: 1.) Plant or if in containers place them some where they can get at least 4-6 hours of direct sunshine a day when it is not to hot (Nov. – March). 2.) When flowers show up you need to shake the area of the plant where the flowers are a bit to get the pollen to disperse. 3.) Fertilzing is important – organic or not – but be sure to follow the instructions for mixing water soluable fertilzers. 4.) Pest / Disease control – I drop the ball this year and now the plants are basically butt naked because I believe some fungus has killed back the foliage. 5.) And most important a good dose of TLC. Hope this was helpful. I plan to blog about things in preparation of the fall plantings more this summer when I will have more time on my hands. If you have a recipe that requires some cherry tamaters I will be picking the last few over the next couple of days that you are welcome to have. Just leave me a comment on my blog and I will get it.

    • March 24, 2011 9:31 am

      Brilliant Bubba – will keep looking at your site for tips. I’ve had loads of stuff eaten this year – basil completely wiped out. PS Do I dedect a West country accent (tamaters)?

  6. March 22, 2011 11:20 pm

    Thanks for the recco, Sally, I’m a big Madhur Jaffrey fan, but haven’t picked up her latest book yet. Her recipes always seem to work! I wish KP luck with his next round of tomatoes – we had an initially good season and then all the plants got wilt, and we lost the lot! Trying again now..

    • March 24, 2011 9:29 am

      All my basil got eaten this year – very disappointing as the tomatoes are harvesting well now. Loving this new book – made a whole feast yesterday in less than an hour.


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