Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I Say Tomato

I work with some very clever people who love food. I often find in the break room new and different dishes of combined ingredients that never would have occurred to me. The other day, someone had prepared whole wheat couscous with chickpeas, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and masala simmer sauce. It had obviously been stewing in the crock pot for a while, but it was still quite flavorful when I spread some on a piece of bagel. 

With it's similarity to many previous dishes I made in January, this dish struck me as being very Indian. It also got me wondering. Why do so many Indian dishes call for tomatoes, a plant that came from the Americas? I thought I'd research tomatoes online and see when they were introduced to India.

Tomatoes originated in South America and were spread to Europe possibly either by Cortes or Columbus. What is known for certain is that the Spanish distributed the plant to their other colonies abroad, including the Philippines, which is how the tomato was introduced to Asia. This took place up to 500 years ago, plenty of time for the tomato to take root in Indian cuisine. Nowadays, China is the world's largest tomato producer, and India comes in at number four.

At the time that the Spanish were spreading this happy little sun-loving fruit, the Mughul empire was flourishing in India, the source of much of what we think of as Indian cuisine today with the addition of seasonings and nuts. Mughlai cuisine is also known for its use of dried fruit and its richness of flavor. One Mughlai dish is biryani badshahi, made with seasoned rice and mutton. (We sell a frozen biryani at work that is vegetarian and absolutely wonderful!)

Many more dishes that are common to foreigners were invented during the period of British rule. The curry spice was developed in order to aid the British in making Indian-like cuisine, which they had fallen in love with. (Some speculate that the dish butter chicken was invented toward the British appetite.)

If you would like to read a brief overview of Indian cuisine dating back to 2000BCE, click here. And for a much more in-depth analysis, check Wikipedia

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