Sometimes one of the biggest inhibitors of cooking fun is being bound to a recipe. A series of tasks, a list of ingredients, exact measurements. For me, at least, this takes a lot of the fun out of cooking. This tomato base is one of my favorite things to throw together without a recipe. It's not fancy, there is no removing of tomato skins or parboiling anything; rather, it's a quick way to make a simple pasta sauce, veggie soup, or tomato-based curry.
First a note on cooking in Uganda. My kitchen is equipped with a mini fridge and a double gas-top burner. I am trying hard not to care that our dishes are not very photogenic, but I may have to break down and get a prettier cutting board. But one thing I'm learning is that you do not truly need a garlic press or a lemon zestor or a rice steamer, you can usually get by with just a good knife. We did get a new stove though, and I'm over the moon. Both burners work, and neither have knobs held on by E-6000 glue. There are no occasional burst of giant flame. Also, it doesn't blacken the bottom of every pan, so I haven't been finding ash on the counter top or in weird places on my arms. There must be some standards here. This is my new friend:
On to the recipe.
Start by dicing up a couple of onions. The more the merrier. Put them in a skillet with a little oil (I prefer olive), and cook them on medium heat until they start to turn brown.
In the mean time, mince up 1-3 garlic cloves, depending on your feelings toward garlic.
You'll also want to start chopping up tomatoes. Remove the tops where the stem attached, then roughly chop them into smaller pieces. A lot of tomatoes is generally a good idea.
Add the garlic and the tomatoes to the cooking onions, and keep stirring them occasionally until you don't really see the tomatoes anymore.
Eventually, things will look about like this.
There are a lot of options at this point, as you can add almost any other kind of vegetable to any of these three items.
I happened to have potatoes, green peppers, and eggplant on hand.
Chop these into small pieces. One thing to keep in mind while you're chopping is that heavier, denser vegetables (like carrots and potatoes) take longer to cook. You can either add those to your pot first, or you can chop them into much smaller pieces.
This is just a side-note, but look at this beautiful potato. Unfortunately the color disappeared after cooking. I think the potatoes here are a mix of several varieties, so you never quite know what you're going to get.
Now you can start adding vegetables
to the base. For a pasta sauce, you might have to add a little water. If you want to get really fancy, you can take some or all of the tomato mixture out of the pan and puree it in a blender. Some good vegetables to experiment with in a pasta sauce are bell peppers, eggplant, broccoli, and zucchini. You can season it with salt, pepper, and things like basil, oregano, thyme, and parsley. Just add little pinches and keep tasting.
For the curry, you can use different types of dried legumes such as lentils, yellow split peas, or chickpeas. It's a good idea to soak these overnight and cook them first in a pot of water. Drain and mix into the sauce.Try mixing in coconut milk for a creamier curry. Cauliflower, chiles, shredded spinach, potatoes, peas, carrots, eggplant, and zucchini are also good options, and a lot of these can be mixed and matched. Season with salt and pre-mixed curry powder to keep things simple, or experiment with ginger, turmeric, cumin, cumin seed, corriander, cilantro, and other spices. Serve with rice or naan.
As for the soup, add water or vegetable broth to the pot. If you blend the soup and add salt, pepper, and basil, it makes a great homemade tomato soup. You can add a little milk or cream if you'd prefer a creamier soup.
For a traditional vegetable soup, try things like salt, pepper, oregano, potatoes, carrots, corn, peas, green beans, bell peppers, eggplant, and zucchini.
For a southwest spin, add salt, pepper, cilantro, ground cumin, corn or hominy, black beans, chiles, and big chunks of tomato. Serve with hot sauce, sour cream (or plain yogurt with a little lime juice), cheese, tortilla chips, and diced avocado as toppings.