Today is Monday and it’s Election Day here in Kolkata.
India’s voting for her CEO and we’re all busy holding our breaths. Yes, me too, considering that I’m not allowed to vote in this country. But all the excitement is more than merely contagious. You might find it difficult to pass a tea shanty without overhearing retired sixty-year-old men sitting around drinking their morning cuppa and bad mouthing the candidates. Even the ladies get into heated debates on occasions. Their’s aren’t as animated or vigorous as that of the men, but the debates are most definitely punctuated with a lot of eye-rolling and pursing of lips.
The days of summer have given way to rain. OK maybe not rain….just clouds. They’re a tease. However, they make sitting inside a cafe with interesting ceiling lights all the more better.
Monday was slightly more sunnier and after about half a day at the office, I flew through empty roads and past poll booths and returned home to sleep in till the evening. Then we hired a couple of DVDs and exclaimed at our Facebook news feeds that have been taken over by photos of fingers dotted with indelible ink (proof that the Indian youth may have been jerked into their senses at long last). We also ate these aubergines and sausage rolls for dinner and stewed a bucket-load of tomatoes to make chutney.
I will talk to you later about the sausage rolls but right now I have one question for you: did you know about this tomato chutney?
The photo was actually taken last summer, when we had a huge supply of carob seed biscuits which we used to dip into the chutney after lunch. It was also a point of time when my oven mitt needed a good wash.
But that chutney, it is what it is. There are these tomatoes and you stew them till they slump over your fork like hopeless druggies. Plump and ripe tomatoes are thrown together with a few spices, sugar or molasses and fat de-seeded dates. They are then gently heated with some water that contributes to the stewing and you end up with a pot of sweet and mysteriously spiced chutney.
You will find tomato chutney by the gallon all over India. I’m pretty partial to a South Indian tomato chutney that comes with an entourage of coconut and curry leaves. There’s a popular version of it found all over North-west India that is tangy and smoky and savory and goes well with steamed rice. What I have here however, is a quintessential part of the Bengali household.
The chutney is not just about the tomatoes. It’s also about the dates. Come to think of it, I don’t really want to call it a tomato chutney. “Tomato chutney” makes me think of the local pub we used to visit in Nottingham that served a very good Chicken Tikka Masala with a very good garlic naan and a very insipid savory tomato chutney. I don’t want you to think of this chutney like that chutney. It’s anything but that. This one here is more like a dessert to be taken chilled, after a meal. After, people. Do you hear me?
Tomato & Date Chutney
Note on the ingredients:
– ghee is clarified butter, but you can easily substitute it with some plain flavorless veggie oil like sunflower oil. Do not use butter though.
– the tomatoes have to be roughly chopped, so don’t go OCD about making all of ’em half-inch pieces
– soak the sultanas/raisins in boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain the water before using. In order to be naughty, use white rum instead of water.
– instead of crushed cardamom you can also use a teaspoon of ground cardamom seeds, if you icky about cardamom pods in your food.
– the recipe below mentions sugar, but we’ve made this chutney several times before using thick molasses (1 cups) or even dark muscavado sugar (same amount). I have even wanted to try this with maple syrup and maybe I will someday. If you do, let me know immediately, please! The sweetness depends a lot on the palate you’re about to feed, so add less or more as necessary.
2 tbsp of ghee [see note above]
1 tbsp of mustard seeds
1 dried red chili, seeds intact…..trust me.
1 green chili, seeds intact
1 kilo of tomatoes (that’s about 2 lbs), chopped into half-inch pieces [see note above]
2 cups of dates, seeds removed (Arabian are the best), chopped
1 cup of sultanas or raisins [see note above]
8-10 pieces of green cardamom, crushed roughly [see note above]
2 1/2 cups of white granulated sugar [see note above]
1/2 tsp of salt
Heat oil in a skillet big enough to hold a couple of pounds of chopped tomatoes and mash the two chilies together into a paste, seeds and all. Add the mustard seeds and wait till all of them have popped. Add the chili paste and cook off it’s pungency for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, dates and sultanas along with half a cup of water. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for 15 minutes, till the dates have softened. Add in the cardamom, sugar/molasses and salt. Stir well. Turn the heat up to medium, cover and cook for 10 more minutes till the tomatoes are rid of all their tartness. You could pull the chutney off heat at this stage. However, if you want it to be thicker, take the cover off and heat the chutney on high till most of the liquid evaporates.
Chill the chutney in the refrigerator and serve with water biscuits or with vanilla ice-cream or you could even serve it simply on it’s own. But always after a meal!