It’s that time of year. Tomatoes are everywhere and even though I have plenty of plants in my garden, I cannot seem to overcome the urge to buy a 10- or 20-kilo box of glossy sauce tomatoes stacked high outside the greengrocer’s. It’s a purchase full of promise, excitement and hope. That is, until I get them home, where I struggle to lift them out of the boot after realising the polystyrene box has a flaw in it that could see them all crashing to the ground, then lurch into the kitchen. At this point I deposit the box somewhere cool and dark, wondering what the hell I am going to do with all these tomatoes. Somehow between the happy purchase and the depositing, the sense of excitement has ebbed away.
I take my tomato dilemma and my tomatoes to work the next day. “Chutney,” one colleague volunteers. “Passata,” ventures another. Neither choice really grabs me, and then I remember what I have forgotten to make the past few years. “I’ll make kasoundi,” I pronounce proudly. I am met by blank stares. “Really?” I think. “You haven’t heard of kasoundi?”
Kasoundi is like a magic addition to so many things. It’s a sort of spiced tomato sauce, originating in the Bengal region of India but bastardised and plagiarised until it became a sort of staple on school fete counters the country over. Or so I thought. Kasoundi, it seems, is not recognised by some of my colleagues. But I am saved by a new member of the team. When she spies me chopping and dicing my ingredients, I tell her I’m making kasoundi, fully expecting the same nonplussed response. Instead she exclaims with delight: “Oh, it’s all over the north-side of town.” Every hipster cafe serves lashings of kasoundi with everything, it seems.
So what is it really? Tomatoes, spices, ginger, garlic, vinegar and sugar. All cooked up to make a rich, spicy fragrant relish of sorts. The recipe is standard, much like a CWA lemon butter recipe. However, depending on what I have planned for my kasoundi, I do make one adjustment. I will make a couple of batches as per the recipe below. This thicker, more concentrated version I use with pies and pasties or as an accompaniment with sausages and meats, pretty much in place of anywhere you would use tomato relish. And then I look at my box of tomatoes and it really hasn’t diminished much at all. So I double the amount of tomatoes in the recipe, really just to get them all used up. What I get from doing this is a version of kasoundi that I actually cook with. First, it’s great just smeared on sourdough toast. Then, a poached egg could be placed on top. Add a clutch of rocket and some yoghurt and you could be in a trendy cafe.
Another of my favourites is an eggplant, cauliflower and chickpea bake. Slice and fry some eggplant in olive oil, then drain. Blanch some flowerets of cauliflower. Open a tin of chickpeas and drain. Arrange the eggplant, cauliflower and chickpeas in an ovenproof dish and spoon over a generous amount of the “weaker” version of kasoundi, add a little water and bake at 180ºC until bubbling. Remove from the oven, garnish with yoghurt and parsley and eat with a crisp green salad.
My tips aside, I think it’s best to just make this kasoundi and see where you want to use it in your own cooking repertoire. But one final piece of advice, always make it on a day when you can open the windows and doors and let a lovely breeze through your kitchen. First, so you tantalise your neighbours with the smell of your wonderful cooking, and second, so you are not living with the faint aroma of kasoundi for months to come.
– 60g green chillis, chopped with or without seeds
– 125g garlic, peeled and chopped
– 250g fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
– 500ml malt vinegar
– 250ml grapeseed oil
– 90g black mustard seeds
– 30g turmeric powder
– 90g cumin powder
– 60g chilli powder
– 2kg ripe tomatoes
– 75g salt
– 250g brown sugar
Mince the chillis, garlic and ginger in a food processor with 50 millilitres of the vinegar. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot until very hot. Add the spices and stir for about five minutes.
Add the garlic mix and cook for another five minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the chopped tomatoes, salt, remaining vinegar and sugar and cook for 60 to 90 minutes, until the oil has come to the top and the kasoundi is thick.
Bottle in sterilised jars.
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 10, 2018 as "Sauce material". Subscribe here.