With several of my tomato plants in bloom there’s much to look forward to. The rest of the year I make do with the ‘vegetable’ from roadside vendors and veggie markets and this is the season when they literally flood the markets. Along with the rest of the veggies so widely available in this season, the Love Apple or the Golden Apple holds its own unique position.
Can you believe that once the tomato was thought to be poisonous? The myth arose because of its similarity with other plants of the nightshade family with toxic berries. Tomatoes, white potatoes, red and green bell peppers, chilli, paprika, and the eggplant belong to the Nightshade family, a botanical genus called Solanaceae species. This species also includes the poisonous belladonna, mandrake, tobacco, herbane and jimson weeds.
There’s a strip of soil alongside our bedroom wall where I plant the tomatoes every year. Last year I added coriander in between the spaces. Necessity is the mother.…. and all that. Well I was happy with the harvest. Every dish was lavishly garnished with coriander leaves grown between the tomato spaces. But this year I went a step further. Right against the wall several cosmos plants were lined up and planted. The tomatoes came in front. Now when I go to check my plants or get some coriander I also manage to shoot a skipper or a cabbage white. I honestly thought that this butterfly was a bloom…till it moved! And since the names of the cultivars aren’t religiously used I was told that this was the Hybrid variety. No other info was revealed. Ah well, I still have my loyal re-seeders, the cherry tomatoes, which spring up faithfully year in and year out. Just like the nasturtiums. In places where you least expect a plant to survive! In a crevice on the wall, behind the water pipes, next to the water pump. I dig/gently pull them and plant them where they have a chance to grow and thrive. All the while I thank the the sun, the rain, the wind, and even the occasional storm. Without them, the element of surprise or serendipity would never happen!
Although the tomato is an indispensable ingredient in many dishes patiently cooked or hurriedly rustled up, the chutney happens to be an all-time favourite. There are always variations in the way it’s cooked or in the ingredients used but the one that I make happens to be the basic (chutney). The ingredients are:
Mustard oil, jaggery, panch puran, turmeric powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, tej patta (Indian bay leaf), chilli powder, a pinch of salt, dates, raisins and a small lump of tamarind. Apricots can be added for that extra special touch.
Jaggery is usually sold in large chunks from which the required amount is taken out. But it’s also moulded into these shapes. The darker one was stored in bamboo and had has taken that shape. Almost like a huge bar of dark chocolate! But what is jaggery? And how is it made? When sugarcane juice is boiled in huge iron pans, the colour turns brown and solid. It’s wholesome, traditional unrefined sugar with the natural goodness of minerals and vitamins inherently present in sugarcane. In Mexico and South America, it is known as panela. It is less stripped of natural ingredients and considered healthier than sugar. jaggery has always been made from sugar cane or date palms. But now the sap of coconut and sago palms are also used.
Panch puran, a mix of five spices is used in eastern Indian cooking. Literally it means the flavour of five (spices). The mixture consists of equal parts of fennel, cumin, fenugreek, mustard and nigella seeds.
And the recipe….Blanch and peel the tomatoes. Slice them. Grate the jaggery. Soak the dates and raisins in hot water for a few minutes. This makes it easier to stone the dates. The same goes for the dried apricots, if using. Heat oil. As soon as it comes to smoking point add the panch puran and the bay leaves. Add all the powdered spices with a little water. This is to assure that the spices do not burn and turn acrid. Then in go the sliced tomatoes. Keep stirring for a while. This may take seven to ten minutes. Then add the grated jaggery. Add the raisins/dates/apricots and let the mixture cook till beautifully blended. If you want a little tangy taste in the chutney you can add the tamarind, stir, and remove from the fire.
Voila! Here’s the chutney ready to be relished! Not the best photograph, I must say. Food photography is something I’ll have to work on this year. Goes very well with the different varieties of Indian bread as well as rice.