[Updated with tomato and hemp seed variation, April 25]
Fact was, there were too many tomatoes, and bushels more coming in daily from the overgrown, exuberant, heedlessly growing garden. There were only two choices, if we couldn’t eat them fast enough: give them away (some were), or chutney.
The second part was a no-brainer, and if you want to follow along, here’s the path. Only one warning: chutneys are, by definition, mash-ups, made up anew each time. The only formula for making them is a rough guide, and your best sense of taste. Got that? Still with me? Ok then.
- Tomatoes: Dice your tomatoes. Use ripe ones, of course, and as many as you want to use. Chutneys cook down, so more is always better than less.
- Onions: Cut a few onions. Yes, not 3-4 or 5-6. Never mind if they’re medium sized, or white or shallots. Just find some onions, and chop them.
- Garlic: Grab as much garlic as you’d like. Not more than a whole bulb, I’d think, but as you please. Keep the cloves whole, but crush them slightly.
- Green Chillies: Find the hottest green chillies you can. Ours were pretty mild, this time around. We used close to 10, finely chopped.
- Curry Leaves: Find a few sprigs of curry leaves. Indian stores will have them. Your Indian friends will, too. Don’t want to venture out to search? It’s bordering on sacrilege, but I’m no fundamentalist. Leave them out.
- Mustard Seeds (for seasoning): a tea-spoonful will do.
- Hing! Asafoetida. Call again on your Indian sources for this one. A nice large generous pinch will do. Don’t have? Shame. Do without.
- Oil (of course): 1/4 cup or thereabouts.
- Sesame Seeds: 1/4 cup or less OR hemp seeds (bhangjeera) 1/4 cup or more
- A spoonful of feugreek or methi seeds
- A teaspoonful of turmeric (this, we need for sure)
- A teaspoonful of red chilli powder (or not)
- A tablespoonful of Jaggery (or brown sugar)
- Salt, to taste.
Whatever you do, don’t use an iron wok for this one. Tomatoes are acidic and will eat through a carefully built-up patina. Work with a large, heavy-bottomed stainless-steel pan instead.
Heat it — then add oil. When that’s at the point of smoking, throw in — in this order: mustard seeds (wait till they pop) — hing — curry leaves — garlic — onions. Pause a bit after each addition. Now let the onions turn translucent.
Add a teaspoon full of turmeric powder, and mix well. Follow with tomatoes — salt — chilli powder — and jaggery or brown sugar. Mix it all well, and let it be on a low-medium flame until the mixture cooks down. You may need to stir occasionally to prevent scorching at the bottom of the pan.
In the meantime: dry roast the sesame [or hemp seeds, bhangjeera] and fenugreek. Use a coffee mill or small grinder to powder these. Set aside.
Once the tomato mixture has cooked down (about a 1/2 hour), you’ll need to pay it more attention or it’ll catch and burn. Stir often to keep it from sticking. Add the powdered sesame-fenugreek mixture. Keep stirring. Turn heat to low if you must.
At this stage, taste. You want a potent mix of spice, sourness, salt, and sweet. Chutneys (thokku, really) of this sort are not for the faint of heart. Crank it up a notch–in every direction–if you must. And yes, cooked chutneys like these will always take more salt than you think they must.
Eventually, you’ll see the oil coming away from the sides or the stirring becoming “slippery”. (If this doesn’t happen, then add a bit more oil, heat, and wait again till the oil starts to come away. It’s a sign that all the water in the tomatoes has evaporated — your chutney will keep longer, the “drier” it gets).
When you do see oil oozing a bit, keep stirring a few minutes longer and then switch off the flame. Allow to cool, bottle and refrigerate.
Serve this like any other spicy condiment: with crackers, toast, flatbreads of all sorts, naans if you must. Or with rice and some simple dal as part of your next Indian meal.