Previously, whenever I’d tried cooking Indian food, the results were hit or miss. Every so often I came up with something about as good as a Tandoor Chef frozen dinner, but that’s it. Perhaps it’s the dearth of Fenugreek seeds in my part of Brooklyn. Perhaps I didn’t have the right instincts for it. My naan was always burnt and cracker-like, and my curries and biryanis bland and lacking depth of flavor. However, having gotten into home fermentation recently, I’ve been looking through the chapters of my cookbooks I’d previously ignored—the chapters on pickling and condiments. It was in Madher Jaffrey’s World of the East Vegetarian Cooking that I came upon a recipe for Hot and Spicy Hyderabadi Tomato Chutney.
The chutney was a revelation. Similar to but better than the chutneys I’d ordered in Jackson Heights and on Curry Hill. This, I thought to myself as I lapped up a mound of it with my barbecued lamb chop, was the real deal. Of course, it helped that I’d bought heirloom tomatoes from my farmer’s market. Also, the complexity of the flavor came from my homemade harissa, which is not an Indian condiment, but nevertheless added a smoky, fiery flavor to the chutney.
The recipe below is an approximation of Jaffrey’s recipe (I still don’t have Fenugreek seeds) and I made most of it up as I went along. Chutneys are great to improvise with. What with the long cooking periods, spices, and vinegars, they’re pretty hard to fuck up. The addition of raisins and sugar to this recipe would turn it into a sweet tomato chutney, of the kind generally served with papadum at the beginning of a meal.
Spicy Tomato Chutney
1 lb ripe heirloom tomatoes
1 red onion
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric
4 cloves garlic, mashed and diced
½ cup vinegar
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons harissa
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons cooking fat or neutral cooking oil
1.) Heat oil or fat over medium high heat until hot. Put in harissa, spices, ginger, turmeric, and onion and cook until onion is soft.
2.) Add tomatoes and vinegar and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the chutney is thick and goopy. About thirty to forty-five minutes. Taste as it cooks and season as you go.