Spices can make miracles and a mixture of Indian spices can transform an ordinary vegetable into a highly palatable side-dish, a cheap meat cut into a fantastic curry and a big bag of cheap, watery tomatoes into a luscious chutney. I learnt the latter last year, when, having bought a bag of rather bland looking tomatoes, I tried to transform them into the ketchup according to my favourite, Jeffrey Steingarten’s recipe. The result was very disappointing and so far from the one obtained with high quality tomatoes, I decided to look for a different preserving idea.
After some research I managed to save the remaining couple of kilos with an Indian chutney recipe, which really acted as a magic wand. The result is complex, slightly sour, slightly sweet, with an intense tomato flavour and a hot kick from the chili peppers. I don’t remember how I had this idea (I certainly was inspired by Indian recipes!), but needless to say, this chutney is simply breathtaking if made with aromatic and ripe tomatoes. As usually the chili amount depends on everyone’s preference and on the chilli variety. I use it as a sauce with deep-fried chicken (Chicken Karaage is a good example), with toasted sandwiches, with sausages…
TIPS: The following amounts are only an example of one of my preserving batches and though I never change ingredients, their amounts vary every time because every batch of tomatoes is different: more or less watery, sweeter or more acidic, etc.. In short, when the chutney reaches the consistency you like (I like it rather thick, a bit like ketchup), cool a small amount in the fridge and taste. Then, adjust the flavours, adding more or less salt, sugar or vinegar (or chilli powder!). Cook for about ten minutes, cool a small portion and taste once more. You might have to taste it twice or even three times to obtain the taste you like.
Obviously, adapt the chilli heat level and amounts to your own preferences. This chutney will be delicious also in a mild version, made with sweet chilli.
For me all the below spices play an important role in the final flavours (and there aren’t many of them), so if you want to make your own tweaked version, don’t skip any of them at least for the first time (though you may add some other spices, if you like). The most important here is nigella/onion seed, so make sure you have it. (All the Indian spices can be bought on internet, even on Amazon, they keep whole for quite a long time, so you can get them if you live far from Indian/Sri Lankan shops!). Nigella can sometimes be bought also in Middle Eastern grocery shops. I’ve been buying fennel seeds in an organic grocery shop and they’re fantastic and not expensive because they’re supposed to be drunk as a herbal tea.
Beware : the yield of this chutney is quite low. Even with the addition of vinegar and sugar, you’ll end up with maximum 1/2 of the initial volume of tomato “juice” sieved through the food mill.
If, like me, you choose to prepare long-term preserves, this chutney jars keep for at least a year not refrigerated.
Special equipment: a food mill (a sieve and a spoon may be used instead, but it takes much longer)
Preparation: 2 hours
1 kg/about 2.2 lbs ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (white or black)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons nigella (onion seeds)
3 dried, crushed medium hot chili peppers (or chilli powder)
1 teaspoon powdered hot chili
100 g/about 3.3 fl oz sugar (preferably cane sugar)
300 ml/about 10.15 fl oz apple vinegar (4,5 %)
1 tablespoon salt
Chop roughly the tomatoes.
Put them in a pan, add 100 ml of water, cover, cook over high heat 5-10 minutes, stirring until the chunks give off their juice.
Sieve the tomatoes or put them through a food mill.
Heat the oil in a pan, fry the spices a couple of minutes, add the vinegar and the sugar and let it simmer, stirring, for 10 minutes until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the sieved tomato juice and the salt.
Cook over moderate heat until it the chutney has the required consistency (I like it similar to the ketchup consistency).
Check from time to time if it’s not burning and give it a stir.
Cool a small amount in the fridge (2 tablespoons), taste and add more chili/vinegar/salt or sugar. Let it simmer 10 more minutes. Taste once more and cook at low heat, stirring, for ten more minutes. Cool a small amount in the fridge and… it will be perfect!
/At this point you can (after the chutney has cooled down) either freeze it, or keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or process it in the jars, as described below, and store it in your pantry for at least a year!/
Pour the chutney, still hot, into sterilised jars, leaving 1 cm empty from the top. Cover with lids. Leave the jars to cool.
Place the cool jars into a big pan, bottom lined with an old kitchen towel folded in two (this will prevent the jars from breaking), cover up with hot – but not boiling- water to the level just below the lid. Bring to a boil and keep on a very low heat, in simmering water, for around 20 minutes.
Stick on self-adhesive labels, write the name of the chutney and don’t forget to mark the date. (I also mark the source and variety of my tomatoes, thus I can see the difference and decide where to buy them next year! You can also put down the adjustments you have made to a particular batch).
NOTE: For the readers who live in the USA, the USDA-approved canning method is different. You can find it described here http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/uga/using_bw_canners.html.