Genius Recipes

The Very Best Way to Cook Cherry Tomatoes

This week’s Genius Recipe comes from Priya Krishna and her mom Ritu—and it all happens in five minutes.

September  9, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

In all of five minutes, you can have the brightest little tomatoes you’ve ever tasted. They will make your dal, your fried eggs, your tacos irresistible—that is, if you don’t leave them behind and decide to just eat Green Chile & Cherry Tomato Pickle from here on out instead.

Pickle-tarians, rejoice. Photo by Ty Mecham. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

The genius of this recipe—the fireworks in no time flat—is all thanks to a mom with unlimited cooking talent and very limited time, and a daughter who was wise enough to recognize it.

When food writer Priya Krishna was growing up in Dallas, Texas, her mom Ritu came home every night from her job as a software programmer and cooked dinner in 20 minutes, without ever splattering oil on her clothes or losing her cool. “She was not rushing—my mom made it look incredibly easy,” Priya told me. “She would come home, pour herself a glass of wine, put the ABBA on our CD player, and get to work cooking.”

After watching and eating these breezy meals, Priya knew Ritu’s food deserved to be in a cookbook. She also saw that any cook in America, if they had Ritu’s recipes, could make excellent Indian food on a Wednesday night. That cookbook became Indian-ish, Priya’s joyful ode to her mom: Ritu wrote 100 recipes; Priya tested and researched and explained why they work.

While all of the recipes in Indian-ish are weeknight-friendly by design, this one might be the fastest. Ritu makes a summery shortcut version of the achars, or pickles, that Priya’s great-aunt would put up in the summer—made from fresh produce, oil, and spices, fermented into a spicy, funky condiment. “We’d have this really amazing, tangy, spicy, jammy condiment that we could put on everything—but it takes an entire summer, or at least a month.” Again, Ritu’s takes five minutes.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Just two comments, neither on the recipe itself. One... you need a better knife. Two... when you get a better knife, THROW OUT that glass cutting board. Better yet, shatter it into a million pieces. Glass cutting boards are abominations that belong in no serious kitchen, they are the best way to ruin any quality knife edge and should never be seen on any serious cooking website. ”
— Deleted A.

One of the keys to unleashing so much flavor so quickly is making a chhonk—sizzling spices and other aromatics in fat (in this case, oil), to both deepen their flavor and set it free, all within moments. (1) In this case, the chhonk is made up of a Bengali blend of whole spices called panch phoran, which translates to “five spices”—black mustard, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, and nigella seeds in equal measure (2)—as well as fresh green chiles that twist and blister in the oil.

Ready for chhonk.

Three minutes in, the active cooking is done, and you tumble your halved cherry tomatoes into the hot, heady chhonk. They’ll barely soften in the lingering heat, letting some of their sweet juices escape. A little lime juice and salt finish it off, and you have cherry tomatoes at 10,000 watts.

The first taste is of electric citrus and spice, then a crush of juicy sweetness, finally landing on a crunchy cloak of seeds that’s more gripping than a potato chip. If you’re like me, you’ll finish the bowl and upend it to drink what’s left.

“Let’s put it this way,” Priya told me. “I really can’t think of a savory dish that this wouldn’t go well alongside.” After dousing it on khara huggi, crispy pork quesadillas, and lots of eggs this summer, I couldn’t agree more.

(1) In Genius Recipes, we most recently saw chhonk (also known as chaunk, tadka, baghaar, and other names in regions across India) at work in Chitra Agrawal’s cozy Khara Huggi.

(2) If you don’t have them on hand, you can order the spices either individually or in a panch phoran blend (just be sure to get whole seeds, not ground, for the best flavor and crunch) at places like Kalustyan’s and Spicewalla. In Indian-ish, Priya suggests using panch phoran in all sorts of other dishes, like fish stew and dal, or you can try it in Food52 community recipes like these:

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

What's your favorite way to cook cherry tomatoes? Let us know in the comments below!
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • gandalf
  • missymaam
  • aileennantucket
  • Barbra Fite
    Barbra Fite
  • Mari
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


gandalf September 15, 2020
Does cooking the serrano peppers in this recipe change or modify the heat that you get from them? Or do they still retain the heat that raw serrano peppers have?
missymaam September 10, 2020
Oh Kristen...I'm sorry about all the mean-ness. This is a great recipe well presented. I'm going to try it. And in my typical fashion, I'm going to keep the base but try different options this way/that way. I don't think the point of this was the deli hack/glass cutting board/knife/being mean. It's just a good recipe. Great job!!
aileennantucket September 10, 2020
too bad I can't PRINT OUT the recipe.....
Kristen M. September 10, 2020
Hi Aileen, there's a print button on the recipe page, which is linked above and I'll share it here:
Deleted A. September 10, 2020
Why can't you? You have multiple ways to print out the recipe: Assuming you are using Windows 10, you can simply do a screen snip of the recipe and print that out, or you can save it to Microsoft One Note, a free app that is one of the most useful things everyone should have on their PC, and save either the entire page or simply the section you wish. Once saved, you can print it from there. Or you can do the easiest thing in the world and simply highlight the text and do a copy and paste into any text editor and then save it and print it whenever you feel like it.
Barbra F. September 10, 2020
She is doing her best! give her a break. She just moved across the country with a small child. There is a Pandemic out there people. Maybe you would just pop out to the store but not everyone is comfortable with that let's be a little kind, please. I use the 2 lid trick for when I have a lot to tomatoes to cut I do it with my large slicing knife and it works great mine are never mashed. But if it's a pint to less I just cut them by hand. This recipe looks great! I can't wait to try it I do love the Indian-ish book great recipes.
Deleted A. September 10, 2020
If I don't want to go out, I can order a knife and cutting board on Amazon and have it delivered the next day. Besides, someone obviously went out to get the tomatoes, peppers and other things needed for the dish. Are you telling me they could not stop for a plastic cutting board and knife at the same time if not pick them up at the same store?

Please do not tell me this website cannot afford to cover that minimal cost. I make allowances for people doing YouTube videos at home for fun, but not videos on a website such as this one which aims to be a high-end cooking and food resource. My criticism is not directed at the individual in the video but at Food 52 as a whole. It is their responsibility and in cases such as this, it would be better to simply hold off on doing the video until it can be done properly.
Mari September 9, 2020
OK, so lets all relax about the cutting board and the knife, please?
>She stated she is in the middle of a move, and
>Her things are packed away, and
>She is using temporary items in a temporary kitchen.
She is handling a dull knife and all the craziness of moving, a family, work ETC with calm grace and charm. Perhaps we, too, can focus on the cooking.

That tomato hack has always annoyed me! I agree it is not helpful. The fastest way to cut tomatoes is with a serrated knife. In one motion you can pierce the tomato skin, and then roll and slice through it.

I am curious about this cookbook, and the concept intrigues me. I would like to make more Indian-style meals and am looking for healthier, easier recipes that have flavorful vegetables without lots of ghee or oil.
Deleted A. September 9, 2020
Nope. Temp kitchen or not, this is supposed to be a quality food site with top-notch information. If I was making a video for this website and was doing it without my own tools, I would take a quick run to a local store, even a dollar store, and pick up a cheap knife and plastic cutting board for less than 10 bucks total rather than use a dull knife - a DANGEROUS thing to do, and a glass cutting board. If you do not have the time to do that, then maybe wait a bit before doing the video? Just a thought.
Kristi September 9, 2020
The cookbook is great! Every recipe has been a success in my family.
Jean M. September 10, 2020
Could not agree with you more! Last week's knife with the glass board was equally scary. Really disappointing that Food 52 would go ahead and do a video like this without at least a proper knife and a plastic/wooden cutting board--or even in a temporary kitchen.
JJ&cat September 10, 2020
I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all. Then we wouldn’t have known, so no new reason for anyone to work so hard at building up controversy. Please, learn to accept imperfections calmly.

Recipe is wonderful!! Thanks so much, Kristen, Priya & Ritu! I love Indian food!
Kristen M. September 10, 2020
I totally agree—thank you for sharing your endorsement too, Kristi.
Kristen M. September 10, 2020
Thank you all for your concerns about the glass board and dull knife—as I've mentioned in the last few videos, I'm in the midst of a cross-country move (with a toddler, whose gear for a month and a half trumped mine in our suitcases) and have been working out of a temporary kitchen using equipment that I normally wouldn't, which hopefully makes it clear that this isn't intended to be an endorsement of the equipment but instead an endorsement of working (carefully) with what you have access to.
RLRL September 9, 2020
The hack is cumbersome—much more simple to use your hand lightly pressed in top of all your tomatoes and cut across the middle with a bread knife, or very sharp butcher knife. You let the handle run outside the cutting board (Or if your board is thin, off the edge of the counter). I can easily do 12 at a time this way and it works much better than the hack. Can’t wait to try this! Thanks for your abundant curiosity and all your research!
Kristen M. September 10, 2020
Thanks for the tip, RLRL! I think I'd still feel a little more comfortable slicing each tomato, but I also just happen to like doing it, so that's a factor.
Michael G. September 9, 2020
I do the tomato hack thing if I have a lot to cut, and it works OK, but it seldom does a great job or an even cut. What I NEVER do is use a glass cutting board. What's up with that?
Kristen M. September 10, 2020
:) I hadn't either, till I ended up in this temporary furnished kitchen, But we're finally in our new home now, so in the next video I'll be happily reunited with my trusty cutting board and knives again.
Deleted A. September 9, 2020
Just two comments, neither on the recipe itself. One... you need a better knife. Two... when you get a better knife, THROW OUT that glass cutting board. Better yet, shatter it into a million pieces. Glass cutting boards are abominations that belong in no serious kitchen, they are the best way to ruin any quality knife edge and should never be seen on any serious cooking website.
Deleted A. September 9, 2020
Oh! I forgot to mention that I agree with you completely in regard to that stupid hack for cutting cherry or grape tomatoes. Total waste of time. The only hack I tend to use is the one for peeling garlic cloves by shaking them inside two stainless mixing bowls. That one does work fantastic when you have a lot of garlic to peel. :)
Kristen M. September 10, 2020
I've never gotten the garlic one to work! I wonder if it varies with the age/moisture of the garlic.
Deleted A. September 10, 2020
I use two 10" stainless mixing bowls and find it works best with at least 3 or 4 medium or larger cloves. I just give them a really good shake for about 10 seconds or so and then take a look to see if the peels have come off. If not, I give it another 10-30 seconds. I've never had any problems with it but I have noticed that it works best with relatively fresh garlic. Once the garlic starts to dry up a bit, it doesn't work as well. But I go through a ton of garlic and with garlic being so cheap, when I notice a head starting to dry up, I restock on my next trip to any grocery store and toss the old stuff.
Cam F. September 9, 2020
I agree with you!! Cutting your tomatoes between 2 lids is silly. Unwieldy and you mess up more stuff to wash. It’s faster to just CUT and be done. ;) I’m also very specific about where I cut so the HACK doesn’t work for me anyway.
Kristen M. September 10, 2020
Great minds!
missymaam September 9, 2020
I wish subtitles had been on. That said, this looks delicious! Everything that Kristen said. However I do not like cumin. If a recipe calls for cumin, my stomach does a flip and it's on to the next recipe. But I really want to try this! I realize this is a classic-as in don't mess with-but what can I substitute for cumin? After posting this I'm going to go make the cherry tomato 3 ingredient no-cook pasta sauce. Love this channel!
Sandraswanson September 9, 2020
I’ve used smoked paprika in place of cumin. Not the same, but it’s a favorite spice for variety.
TMc September 9, 2020
I’m with you on cumin, Missy Ma’am! I can not get over that musty armpit (not mine, of course!) smell. Ack! Smoked paprika sounds like a suitable substitution. I can not wait to make this recipe 👍🏼
Deleted A. September 10, 2020
I guess you aren't a fan of Chili or tacos or other Mexican style food as cumin is a very common spice in those dishes.
Kristen M. September 10, 2020
Thanks for the swap idea, Sandraswanson, and missymaam, you might be pleasantly surprised by this mix as-is, too—since there are several other spices in equal amounts, they meld into a really delicious complex flavor and no one spice is especially prominent.
Kristen M. September 10, 2020
Oh, and missymaam,i in the version on our YouTube channel, it's simple to turn subtitles on: