Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tomato Chutney

My first experience with chutney happened in high school, and had little to do with India. I ordered curry from a small cafe, which came garnished with yogurt and Major Grey's Mango Chutney. Sweet with high fructose corn syrup, dark with caramel coloring, and mildly spiced to accommodate Anglo palates, it probably bore little resemblance to anything eaten in India (well, eaten by those other than the British imperials). But it had something that intrigued me, even though I'm normally a bit squicked out by the pairing of sweet and savory (I know). I looked around for recipes, landing on the equally Anglo Moosewood Cookbook. I followed the directions, cooking up a syrupy mass of fruit, honey, vinegar, ginger and garlic. For a while, I thought that that was all that chutney could be.

And then I discovered the true world of chutney. Pungent purees of fresh cilantro, hot with green chiles and rich with ground coconut. Sweet and sour tamarind sauces, savory stewed cloves of whole garlic, powdery peanut pastes. But one of my favorites is tomato chutney.

Tomato chutney has a warm richness from the sweet tomatoes and long cooking, and a fusty edge from the mustard seeds and curry leaves. And, of course, heat from the chiles and cayenne (which, admittedly, I tend to adjust down because I'm something of a chile wuss). I use this to fancy up my Indian meals (either homemade or *gulp* from a pouch), but it can also be substituted for catsup to put a whole new spin on burgers. I'm curious to see what other combinations it can inspire.

Tomato Chutney

I adapted this from a faded recipe I copied down years ago, and despite repeated googling I haven't been able to find the source. Any attribution appreciated. Even if you don't have the full rundown of the spices called for, you can try it with what you have, and still produce a stellar condiment.

1/4 cup high-heat oil, such as peanut, grapeseed or canola
10 fresh or frozen curry leaves
4 dried red chiles
2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
pinch fenugreek seeds
1 tsp cayenne
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sambar powder (substitute ground coriander if you don't have this)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
pinch asafetida
scant 2 lbs tomatoes, chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
up to 2 Tbsp sugar (depending on sweetness of tomatoes)
~1 Tbsp salt

Heat the oil in a heavy pan, over a medium-high heat. Add the whole spices (curry leaves, chiles, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek). Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the spices are fragrant and the mustard seeds have stopped popping (just a minute or two). Add the remaining ground spices (cayenne, paprika, turmeric, and asafetida), and cook for just a half a minute to toast them. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, stirring, and the salt and sugar to taste. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until the tomatoes break down, and the oil separates out. The time this takes will vary, depending on the liquid content of the tomatoes -- generally about 20-40 minutes.


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