Mid to late summer is when garlic is ready for harvest, tomatoes become a glut and chilli plants are laden with fruit. With all of this delicious produce it is hard to not to think about preserving the deliciousness for later months. It is an annual tradition for our family, to make and bottle litres and litres of tamatar kasundi. In this way we preserve the very best of summer harvest to use throughout the year.
Traditionally, Kasundi is a sauce made by fermenting mustard seeds, it is a much stronger and sharper sauce than other mustards. Tomato kasundi differs from this, though it still has mustard as a key ingredient. This version is described as a richer, spicier and more savoury ketchup.
The making of Kasundi has a long history in Bengali culture, steeped in ritual and rite. Due to the cost of mustard seeds, it was a dish preserved mostly for the wealthy. Women were forbidden to make it, they could only contribute by pulverising the mustard seeds, before passing it on to the Brahmin to make the Kasundi itself. This article goes into more depth about the making of Kasundi if you are curious to discover its interesting past.
Our kasundi is not closely modelled on any traditional tamatar kasundi recipe. It is more loosely based on the available ingredients and whichever whim I have when it is made. In this way it varies slightly from year to year. Though the foundation remains the same.
A whole mess of tomatoes – at least 5 kgs of tomatoes, these can be freshly ripe, green, overripe, canned or any other variation of tomato.
Fresh ginger root – at least 3-4 decent sized tubers
Chilies – let your palate determine how many and which varieties. If you want a totally mild sauce, then sweet bell peppers are an excellent substitution
Garlic – I use a lot, usually 10-20 decent heads of garlic. If it has been freshly harvested then the stem can be sliced in too. This is also a great opportunity to use up last seasons garlic if you have any older bulbs hanging around.
Spices – generally I use this as an opportunity to clear out my spice shelf, but the key ingredients which I almost always include are turmeric, mustard (black & yellow), cumin and coriander. This year I also included juniper berries, cardamom, nigella seeds, fennel, szechuan pepper, caraway, oregano and black pepper.
The first step is to reduce the tomatoes by cooking. Put them in the pot whole and cook on a very slow heat. It is habitual to remove the stems before doing this, but I find that leaving the stems in gives a much richer tomato flavour. The goal is to cook the tomatoes until they are soft and sweet. If the tomatoes are green, it is a good idea to chop them up first otherwise they don’t break down sufficiently.
Once the tomatoes have cooked down sufficiently, it is time to add the ginger, chilies and garlic.
The garlic needs to be peeled first, to peel large amounts of garlic use this trick. It works like magic.
The ginger root needs to be sliced small, some people peel it but I find that chopping off the rough bits is sufficient. I do make sure I cut it across the grain to ensure the stringy fibres don’t overcome the texture of the sauce.
With the chilies, simply slice them including the seeds.
Depending on what blending equipment you have you can put all of the ingredients in with the tomatoes and then blend in batches, or mix them together in a food processor and then add to the tomato mix and blend together with a stick mixer. The goal is to blend everything together smoothly and evenly. Once this has been done, put the mixture back on a low heat to very slowly cook. You don’t want it to boil, and you don’t want it to catch on the bottom and burn – which can happen very quickly.
While this mixture is heating, it is time to toast the spices, put them all together in a heavy bottomed pan and toast them slowly, making sure to stir them often. Once the spices are fragant and toasted (but not burned) they need to be ground up finely. This can be done in a grinder or with a mortar and pestle. They then get added to the mix and stirred in thoroughly. I add mustard seeds in at this stage, whole.
Once the mixture has heated through and is piping hot it is time to bottle it. Kasundi keeps very well if bottled properly with a good seal. I use passata jars, cleaned and sterilised. The kasundi mixture is poured in hot and the jars quickly sealed to create a vacuum as the jar cools.
My favourite way to eat kasundi is on freshly poached eggs with salad greens. It is also delightful in soups, curries and stews or on toast with cheese. Kasundi is an excellent relish to serve with many foods. Because it is not preserved with vinegar or sugar, it is a very healthy food. It is an excellent way to preserve summer bounty.