Easy alternatives to cooking with tomatoes

Skyrocketing prices of tomatoes pinching your pocket? Instead of trying to rework your household budget, why not figure out alternatives? A little imagination, a short rummage through the pantry and a dash of creativity can go a long way into making a meal work well without tomatoes.

21 Aug 2017

Tomatoes are an integral part of several recipes where they provide a sour tang and red colour. But this fruit (yes, it actually is one!) is not native to India. The Portuguese brought it with them in the 16th century. Before that, various cuisines used a medley of souring agents: Bengal and the north used yoghurt, vinegar is an integral part of Goan cooking, tamarind and kokum can be found in dishes along the Malvan and Malabar coast, lemons feature in Gujarati favourites, amchur in Rajasthani food, while kachampuli is famously used in Coorg.  

Here are some alternatives for tomatoes which you could use in your daily cooking:

Tamarind for sourness

A coastal fish curry, for instance, would be given the sour flavour from tamarind paste or water. This needs to be balanced with coconut, or onion, ginger and garlic.

Yoghurt for tang: Kashmiri food tends to be cooked in yoghurt, with spices added for interest. Yakhni, for instance, blends dahi and saffron with meat broth, while Rogan Josh has meat cooked with yoghurt tempered with fennel, cardamom, cloves and dry ginger powder, along with onion and garlic pastes.

Spices for sweetness and sourness

The Bengali menu specialises in the use of ground spices and seeds to add a characteristic taste. Poshto is a paste of poppy seeds and chillies, and is used most commonly with potatoes. Shorshe Ilish, a popular favourite, has hilsa cooked in a ground mustard seed based gravy. Tomatoes are not really missed!

Red peppers for colour and texture

For more western food, like pizzas and pasta, the red sauce generally made with tomatoes, is often substituted for by a puree of red peppers with garlic and spices. Alternatively, pesto made with basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil works well with pasta and on flatbreads.

Pumpkin for texture and consistency

Cooked and mashed with salt and spices, red/orange pumpkin is a good alternative to the texture and consistency of tomatoes in a gravy. Add a little lemon or vinegar for extra sourness and a pinch of sugar for the hint of sweetness and you will never miss your favourite round red fruit!

Crushed nuts for body

A number of gravies are made with ground up nuts, usually cashews or almonds. Peanut butter, oddly enough, can do the job as well, thickening the sauce and providing a smooth consistency with a depth of flavour. Just don’t tell anyone that you got it from a jar!

There are always interesting alternatives to the familiar taste, colour and tang of tomatoes. What substitutes do you have? Do tell us!