Winter tomatoes (in spicy yogurt sauce)


It ends up that yes, you can freeze tomatoes. Not tomato sauce, not tomato paste, not tomato puree (although all those things freeze just fine, too), but actual tomatoes.

I learned this indirectly from my aunt. Indirectly because she was not talking to me, but rather had left instructions with my cousin (her son) while she was out of town to pick the tomatoes from their ample garden as they ripened and put them in the bag already started in the freezer that she kept for all the tomatoes they couldn’t keep up with.

It’s been a great tip – especially since my dashing husband overestimates even his impressive tomato-eating ability when tomatoes are ripe and plentiful and cheap at the market. Once frozen, the tomatoes won’t work as fresh tomatoes – you wouldn’t want to make caprese salad with these, for example – but if you’re going to cook them anyway, it’s perfect. If you were going to peel them in the process then freezing has the bonus prize of making the tomatoes extremely easy to peel without the usual step of blanching them first.

So when I found a bag of Early Girl tomatoes from last summer in the freezer the other day, I decided to pretend it was summer (I needed a distraction from these gray days we’ve been having on the West Coast), if just a little bit. I smeared petrale sole with a paste of ginger and mint (notice all the mint on my table lately? That’s because mint grows like an invasive weed in Northern California, especially when it rains) and baked them, cooked a pot of rice, and peeled a few frozen tomatoes and then gently heated them up in a spicy yogurt sauce. I know it sounds a bit weird, but it is an unbelievably delicious flavor combination. The delicate fish – rice – tomato in spicy yogurt sauce combo was sublime.

Tomatoes in spicy yogurt sauce

I developed this recipe when I was working at Sunset and can never get over how good it is, or how tasty that sauce is on rice. I can now add to its many wonders how delightfully it makes use of frozen tomatoes.

8 ripe but firm tomatoes

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 Tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 small hot green chiles, seeded and minced

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (low-fat or fat-free versions will curdle)

If you’re using fresh rather than frozen tomatoes, blanch tomatoes to make peeling them easier: bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare a large bowl of ice water, cut a small “x” in the bottom of each tomato, dip tomatoes in the boiling water for about 30 seconds and then use a slotted spoon to transfer the tomatoes to the ice water, drain tomatoes and pat them dry.

If you’re using frozen tomatoes, just take them out of the freezer. In any case, the next step is to use a paring knife to gently peel off the tomato skins and set tomatoes aside, whole or at least as whole as possible.
In a large frying pan, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add cumin seeds and mustard seeds and cover. The seeds will start popping within about a minute. Cook until the popping slows down, about 2 minutes total.
Remove the lid and add the butter. When the butter has melted, add turmeric and cayenne. Stir and cook until brightly fragrant, about 1 minute. Add garlic, chiles, and salt. Cook, stirring, for about a minute. Reduce heat to low and add yogurt. Stir to combine.
Add tomatoes to yogurt mixture, Gently stir to coat the tomatoes with the sauce. Cook over low heat until tomatoes are just warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.