Tomatoes are to Punjabi cuisine what milk is to curd or chicken is to non-vegetarian food. Except Sarson ka Saag and Palak Paneer there is nothing much in Punjabi food which one can manage to put together without tomatoes. Butter Chicken, Dal Makhani, Baingun Ka Bharta, Mutter Panner and Pindi Channa can never be attempted without the right kind, quality and quantity of tomatoes. Punjabi cuisine relies on the tangy composition of tomatoes, as a result certain varieties which do very well as salad tomatoes fail miserably when added to Punjabi recipes.
One half of all standard Punjabi dishes must include generous quantities of tangy tomatoes. Choley – Bhaturay, Alloo – Puri amd Rajmah – Chawal can’t be the same without tomatoes. Tomatoes have excellent vitamin composition too, just two to three tomatoes eaten daily can take care of one’s daily vitamin C and vitamin A needs. Scientifically speaking tomatoes are fruits because they carry seed like all fruits, but because of their usage in savory dishes instead of being part of sweet cooking they are classified as vegetables.
What is baffling is the fact that all Punjabi cooking was done without tomatoes till the mid 19th century. The entry of tomatoes through Iran in the western part of Punjab, sometime in the mid 19th century changed everything. It is a well documented fact that before the usage of tomatoes, most Punjabi dishes relied on tamarind and mango powder (aamchoor) for that essential tang, but now with the popularity of tomatoes, most recipes have been altered beyond recognition. Many Punjabi households now use tomatoes in even Saag and Palak Paneer. So when someone says authentic Punjabi food, it won’t be improper to quiz him with pre-plantation of tomatoes Punjabi food or post-plantation of tomatoes Punjabi food. It would be interesting to attempt creating Pindi Choley/ Channa without tomatoes or for that matter Butter Chicken without tomatoes. It is always interesting to know that tomatoes traveled from US to Spain, Spain to Iran and from Iran to Punjab, all for Butter Chicken to be born in Punjab.