We're at the height of tomato season in our backyard. I feel like a proud mama watching the cherry tomato plants grow from little seedlings into the lush network of fruit-bearing machines they are now. Before this, I'd never grown anything, save for sprouting some beans on the kitchen top, but that doesn't count. Not everything we planted took off though, so we're still figuring things out around the garden as we go along. But for now, we're popping these juicy tomatoes in our mouth and admiring the faint hint of green that our thumbs are developing.
Summer has been extremely fruitful, in every sense of the word, and it feels like I'm plunging into the rhythm of life here. Once in a while, I hanker for the comfort of a familiar taste from home, and this tomato quinoa recipe is the result of a craving for nasi tomato, which translates to rice cooked in tomato puree. For something as simple as its name suggests, it features a lot of flavors from spices like cinnamon, cumin and cloves, and is popular during special occasions such as a Malay wedding.
This is one of those dishes in Malaysia that has benefitted from the many cultures that call it home, with each culture having their own variation of the recipe. I thought I'd give it my own spin, and make it with quinoa instead. It certainly helps that these homegrown cherry tomatoes are so incredibly delicious, and I get the natural sweet-tangy tomato flavor in every bite.
This recipe is inspired by the popular Malaysian rice dish, nasi tomato. I use quinoa instead of rice and like it even more. I highly suggest using fresh tomatoes over store-bought tomato paste or ketchup. Interestingly enough, the idea to add bell pepper came from an Indian food blog, which provided me with a great reference point to make this dish a success. Serve it as a side dish, but it's so packed with flavors that it's just as good on its own! Serves 4.
8 to 10 cherry tomatoes
1/2 inch ginger, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1/2 medium red bell pepper, sliced into thin pieces
1 cup uncooked quinoa
Cilantro, for garnish
Blend cherry tomatoes, ginger, cumin powder, coconut palm sugar and salt until you get a puree. Measure in a cup and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a pot. In medium-low heat, sauté garlic and yellow onion, followed by cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, bay leaf and clove, until fragrant. Be careful not to burn the spices. Add bell pepper and sauté for another minute or two, until it turns slightly soft.
Add tomato puree and water. You will need 2 cups of liquid to cook 1 cup of quinoa, and that amount should come from tomato puree and water combined. For example, if the puree measures 3/4 cup, add 1 1/4 cups water to make 2 cups of liquid. Add quinoa and stir to combine all ingredients.
Bring mixture to a boil, then turn heat on low, cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes (or according to package instructions). Quinoa is cooked when the grain is translucent with a ring around it. Turn off heat and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff quinoa with fork before serving. Garnish with cilantro on top or stir in chopped cilantro for added flavor.