Well, no, those aren’t particularly green, are they? They do look suspiciously red. (They were green when Michele sold them to me on Saturday; I just didn’t get to them fast enough and they reddened on standing a few days.)
That’s not what’s different about them, though.
Though I’ve had some food blogs put me in their Indian category when linking to me (I consider it an undeserved honor), I’m as pale as a marshmallow. I’m not Southern either – yes, I grew up in Virginia, but Northern Virginia, the D.C. area, which is a different state entirely from Virginia Virginia, the rest of the state. I sometimes tell people I’m from the “Fake South.”
Despite that, somehow this Indian-by-Southern food hybrid arose in my kitchen and has developed into one of our favorite summertime treats.
Most fried green tomatoes are made with cornmeal and use egg to bind the coating. These are made with chickpea flour, also known as gram flour or besan, which is a wonderfully versatile ingredient. In this dish, it fries up on the outside of the tomatoes with a smooth, crunchy (not gritty) crust, and it doesn’t require the slices to be dipped in egg before the batter is applied – which means they can be made vegan. (You can do fried green tomatoes without egg, but there is significant trouble in convincing the cornmeal to stay attached.)
I laced this chickpea flour batter with aromatic cumin, coriander, cayenne and ginger. The result is something like pakora, the Indian batter-coated vegetables or cheese – but I’ve never seen a tomato pakora.
They’re simultaneously crunchy, juicy, salty, tomatoey, spicy – and all-around delicious.
You definitely want green tomatoes for this – the redder they get, the juicier, softer and trickier to handle they become. Dry them well to help the batter adhere, and don’t sweat it if they’re not perfectly coated – their roughness is part of their charm.
3 medium-sized green tomatoes, cut in 1/2 in slices
1 1/3 c. chickpea flour
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. black mustard seeds
1 t. fresh ginger, grated
1 T. (packed) cilantro leaves, minced
1 c. water
neutral oil for frying
For the raita:
1 cucumber, pureed (peel if it’s waxed) and drained in a fine-mesh sieve
1 c. plain yogurt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. cilantro or mint leaves, minced
salt and pepper to taste
Using a whisk, mix the chickpea flour, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, ginger and cilantro together in a shallow bowl. Add about a quarter of the water and begin mixing it in with the whisk. The mixture will pull together in clumps. Gradually add in additional water until the batter is slightly thinner than peanut butter – not extremely stiff and sticky, but not drippy at all. This will take most or all of the water.
Heat enough oil to put a thin coating on the bottom of a 12-in. skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Take a slice of tomato and dry each side of it using a paper towel or clean, lint-free kitchen towel. Using a blunt knife like a butter knife, coat both sides of the tomato with batter (or use your fingers, if, like me, you are Not Fussy). Place the tomato slices a few at a time in the hot oil and cook for three or four minutes or until reddish-brown underneath. Turn and cook the other side for three or four minutes. If the tomatoes stick or brown too fast, lower the heat a little. Cook all tomatoes in the same way and set on paper towels to drain as they’re finished.
To make the raita, mix all the ingredients together and allow to stand a few minutes for the flavors to combine.
Makes 4 servings.