At the height of tomato season, I don’t pay much attention to cherry or grape tomatoes. By mid-August I’ve been snacking on them for weeks and am a little tired of simply popping them in my mouth. I never thought of them as the perfect tomato, sweet but less watery than the large heirlooms I’ve been waiting for, for a fresh salsa. This is my dad’s version of a salsa or a sambol, as he calls it. He adds lime juice and salt to draw a little of the tomato juices into the marinade. After thinly slicing the tomatoes, moving on to slowly mincing shallots, he adds freshly ground dried chilies from which he meticulously discards all the seeds. I can promise you I wouldn’t be as detailed, but that little bit of TLC took this sambol from a side dish I thought we could take or leave to the star of the meal. Nobody could get enough of it and we were eating plenty of good curries and rice at this meal. I won’t blame you if you think this is weird, because I’d never really thought of having cherry tomatoes on rice before, but trust me and everyone at my table that night, it makes perfect, mouth-watering sense.
Dad’s Fresh Cherry Tomato Sambol
*My dad always uses very tiny red, pearl shallots, and he uses a lot of them. If you can’t find those, use regular shallots.
1 pint cherry tomatoes
Lime juice (from 1 or 2 limes)
3-4 large shallots*
Finely ground dried red chilies (or ground cayenne pepper)
Quarter cherry tomatoes and add to a small non-reactive bowl. Add the juice of 1 lime or enough to toss the tomatoes in, season with salt and set aside. Meanwhile, peel and finely chop the shallots to make about a quarter of the volume of tomatoes and add to the bowl and mix. Grind some crushed or whole dried chilies and try to separate the seeds by shaking and discard as many as possible. Add some of the crushed chilies to the bowl and set aside for 10-15 minutes. Mix again, taste and adjust seasoning. Best fresh but you could refrigerate for a few days. Serve as a spicy condiment with whatever you’d like.
Makes about 2 cups.