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Question on English Culinary Ingredients--Especially as Related to Indian Cooking

The questions below arise as I read, and cook from, the Dishoom cookbook.

1) What is "tomato puree"? My guess, based on the small quantities called for in recipes, is that it is what is known as "tomato paste" in the U.S.

2) What variety/ies of chile is/are "green chilli"? I'm guessing likely jalapeno or serrano--a fairly hot, but common, pepper?

3) Are there no red chillis (chiles, dammit ;«) ) in the U.K.? "Green chillies" are, it seems, always specified. FWIW, there is NO chile or pepper that doesn't ripen to a color beyond green--usually red, yellow, or orange. Green peppers/chiles are not fully ripened, which is true even for bell peppers, er, "capsicums", right?.

Mucho thanks in advance for any replies!

Posted by
1246 posts

In England the terminology is:
Puree is thicker, often comes in a tube from which you squeeze it out and it is used sparingly. It might be called paste in the US, and it does have the consistency of a paste, but for tomatoes that word has a different meaning here viz:
Paste usually comes in a jar or sachet and is more "liquidy", you can pour it which you cannot with the puree.

I'm sure they are intending you use something that looks like the former.

Although you can buy different varieties of chilli if there is a specific need, most British supermarkets also sell packets of a generic cook's "red chilli" "yellow chilli", "orange chilli" or "green chilli", sometimes with a "hotness" grade on the label rather than any obvious variety name. Or often they sell a mixed pack of red & green chillies - they're the same variety with the red being slightly milder than the green. Some recipes specify the variety preferred (like bird's eye for Indian relishes), but If they aren't specifying, I guess they mean that the "standard" supermarket green/unripe chilli is fine - not too mild, but not really so hot as to ruin any other flavour. P.S. In proper English it's definitely spelt "chillies"

Posted by
190 posts

Hi Willy,

As an American in London I know this confusion well!

Tomato purée - yes, the American equivalent is tomato paste

Green chillies - someone more expert on Indian cuisine can be more specific, but I think there are particular Indian varieties of green chillies. When I cook Indian I don’t get that specific - I just grab what I can find at the supermarket or farmer’s market, usually jalapeños or Thai chillies. A specialty grocery probably would have them.

Red chillies - they do exist here! Got one in my fridge right now :)

Posted by
2989 posts

Willy, as noted, the US equivalent would be tomato paste.

Indian green chili is a specific type of pepper, but roughly equal amounts of jalapeño, Serrano, or Thai chili will work.

Posted by
519 posts

I am in the United States. Tomato purée is a smooth mixture of tomatoes (blended, no chunks). It’s not watery, but it’s not thick. It’s kind of in the middle, if that makes sense, consistency-wise. Tomato paste comes in small cans or tubes and it is thick and concentrated.🍅 If your recipe is calling for a small quantity, it would probably be what we in the US would call tomato paste.

Posted by
5092 posts

As thick as American tomato paste is, a purée consistency would involve equal parts tomato paste and tomato sauce. ones way too thick on its own, and the other way too runny.

Willy, how frequently is Dishoom using cardamom in their recipes?

Posted by
4556 posts

I buy a lot of British cookbooks and have also taken several Indian cooking classes in the UK so have come to learn many of the differences.

UK tomato puree is US tomato paste.

With regard to the green chillies, if you have an Indian market near you, they might have the variety of green chili that is typically used in Indian cooking. It looks similar to a serrano, but it is longer. It can be hit or miss to find them. I generally substitute jalapenos or serranos.

I’ve also been substituting kashmiri chili powder for deggi mirch.

Posted by
4556 posts

Cyn, I have the dishoom cookbook and I know the makhani sauce I made for the chicken ruby curry had both green and black cardamom.

Posted by
2634 posts

They sell tomato purée (the can says purée) here in the United States.

Posted by
2916 posts

I do a fair amount of Indian cooking, so I deal with some of these issues. Although there is canned tomato puree in the US, based on some of the comments here it sounds like British puree is American paste. If the recipe calls for a small amount (measured in tablespoons or up to 1/4 cup) it likely means American paste.
As to chilis, I use whatever I have around that has at least a little bit of a bite. It's often red chilis.

Posted by
129 posts

Thanks to all for your answers!

Cyn--Yeah, they use cardamom a lot, both black and green. Other much used spices/seasonings are garlic, ginger, coriander seed, coriander stalks (what we'd call cilantro), deggi mirch chilli (chile! ;«) ) powder (which I can't find, I use one from an Indian food supplier just called "chilli powder"), cumin seed, garam masala (they give a recipe for it), and fennel seed.

The cardamom leads me to another question: they mostly use whole pods. I can't see why it wouldn't be better to break the seeds out of the pods rather than fish out the whole pod at the end of cooking?

Posted by
4556 posts

They sell tomato purée (the can says purée) here in the United States.

Except the ”tomato puree” in the U.S. is basically what would be called ”tomato passata” in the UK.

UK puree = US paste
US puree = UK passata

Posted by
16869 posts

Keeping your cardamom whole/smashed might just give you more a little more control/options, and keep that flavor from taking over. Black ones are larger and easier to find when cooked. Choose your chiles as hot as you like them.