Fermented Tomato Relish
Tomatoes are always a glut. Preserving them through fermentation is a great way to microbially enhance (a trillion fold) the harvest while pre-making a base for future gazpacho/passata/Bloody Mary/paste/ice cream (if you want). This process (and salt in general for tomatoes) will superpower your tomato flavour, rescuing even the blandest hydroponically grown tomatoes and turning them into something reminiscent of Mediterranean island salads, blue seas and sun-kissed produce.
Today, we’re transforming tomatoes into good ol’ tomato relish!
You will need:
A 1l glass jar
Roughly 1 kg medium tomatoes (or as many cherry/roma/baby tomatoes will fit into a 1l jar)
20g of good salt (not iodated table salt) 2% of the weight of the tomatoes = your salt percentage
1) Here you have two options:
A: Cut the tomatoes in half and squish them one by one into the jar, sprinkling salt in layers as you go. By the end you should have used up all, if not most of the salt. If you’ve used less than a kg of tomatoes, less salt is perfectly fine. See below for troubleshooting.
B: Cut the tomatoes in half and lay them out arranged tightly together. Generously sprinkle the salt over the tomatoes and give it a 5 minute moment to settle. Don’t wait too long as you want to keep all the juicy juices the tomatoes will release after salting. Squish everything into the jar.
2) Make sure to fill any air gaps between the squished tomatoes. Use a rolling pin or pestle to get into the air gaps if your hands don’t fit. Once the jar is full up, it should look like a red tomato sea of seeds. It’s a good idea to pack the jar in a wide bowl to catch any juice that’s spilled. You want to fill the jar above the shoulder line so as to avoid any contamination.
3) Clean the neck of the jar and seal with the lid.
4) Open and enjoy anytime from about three weeks in (four weeks is the perfect time as all your microbial juju is at its peak population). Refrigerate once opened.
• I use percentages for ferments, everyone does it differently but this way I find foolproof. The quantity of salt recommended in this recipe is according to the weight of the tomatoes. If you’ve used all the salt but not all the tomatoes, that’s perfectly fine, just let it sit a bit longer in ferment to mellow out the flavour.
• The ferment will move as it works it’s microbial anaerobic magic, mixing in all the salt and tomatoeyness. So don’t fret if you feel one section of jar is more salty than another.
• Your jar will sing and fizz and pop and weep as it ferments, particularly in the first two weeks. Be sure to keep it in a bowl to catch all the weeping and be sure to keep it clean so as not to attract fruit flies too much. I keep my home ferments on the draining rack above my sink.
• Don’t be alarmed if your ferment fizzes as you open it, it’s releasing all the carbon dioxide it’s created through the process. It’s like a galaxy in a jar; a million stars being born in a red lycopeney galaxy.
Now the easiest part, RELISH!
This recipe is for fresh relish. For relish you can store, add more sugar (at least 110g, at most 150g).
The fermentation should have softened the tomato skins so feel free to use the whole fruit (now squished into big pieces in your jar).
Half your jar of tomato ferment
250g onions (red onion or shallots are particularly delicious but any will do)
At least one chilli, c’mon
Sugar (the browner the better) or honey to taste
A dash of rich vinegar, like red wine or fynbos or hibiscus. My go-to is pomegranate.
1) Pour out half your jar of fermented tomatoes into a bowl. Pick out the fleshy bits of tomato and slice into chunks. Set aside. Keep the remaining juicy tomato afval in the bowl, you will use this in a moment.
2) Caramelise your onions: dice them and pour into a hot pan with your fat or oil of choice. When they are glassy and beginning to brown, add your dash of vinegar to gloss it up and hold the sweetness. Then add your chilli/s, sliced in half or slit (de-seed if you need less heat). Add your sugar/honey to complete the caramelisation. Alternatively add your honey at the end once the relish has cooled to keep it raw.
3) Add the tomato juice afval left in your bowl after removing the fleshy bits. Let this cook down for at least 15 min on a low heat.
4) Once everything has thickened, remove from the heat and toss in your chopped fermented tomato chunks. Fold into the onion mix and season as you wish, with pepper or paprika.
Tip: You may add green pepper, chopped cooked kelp, dhania, parsley or basil to this mix to make it your own.
Enjoy on your fave boerie, as the salsa replacement in the perfect nachos setting, or even cooked into your lasagna! Relish has a myriad of applications, it could even replace the tomato sauce on your grilled cheese.
Zayaan Khan works to unhinge consumption from neoliberalism.