I’ve been on a preserving tear over the last few months, filling jars with pickles and chutneys of various kinds. The greatest beneficiary has been the missus who has been heard making demands at lunch that the full array of pickles be placed on the table. The secondary beneficiaries have been various undeserving friends. In some ways it is easier to make pickles (by which I mean achaars as we call them in North India) in large quantities, and since I’m making so many, we have more than we can eat ourselves. The only real roadblock is the ongoing shortage of lids and bands for Ball jars. Ideas for pickles, I have no lack of. This is largely because I have a copy of Usha’s Pickle Digest. I’ve been making pickles from the book and also improvizing some recipes of my own. Such, for example, was the carrot-garlic pickle I posted a recipe of a few weeks ago. And such too is this spicy tomato chutney. While the carrot-garlic pickle was more of a pure improvization, this one starts out as a mashup of two adjoining tomato pickle recipes in the Pickle Digest. To that mashup I add a few twists of my own. The results, if you’ll forgive the immodesty, are outstanding.
The Usha’s Pickle Digest recipes in question are #793 (Ground Tomato: Hot) and #794 (Sour Tomato-Raisin: Sweet). The first has tamarind as the souring agent and the second has vinegar. My recipe keeps most of the ingredients for #793 (with amounts adjusted) but swaps in the vinegar for the tamarind and adds roasted cumin and fennel seeds to the spice mix. And I add an extra step at the beginning: I char the tomatoes first.
- Tomatoes, a little over 2 lbs
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- 1 tblspn black mustard seeds
- 1 tblspn cumin seeds, 1 tblspn mustard seeds, 1 tspn fenugreek seeds, 1/2 tspn hing all dry roasted together.
- 1 tblspn fennel seeds ground to a coarse powder with the roasted seeds once they’ve cooled.
- 3 tblspns of the hottest red chilli powder you can handle
- 1 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- 3 tblspns jaggery or brown sugar
- 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar (or similar)
- 3 tblspns salt
- 1 cup sesame oil (not the dark kind)
- Char the whole tomatoes in a cast iron skillet or under the broiler. You just want to get a bit of a char not blacken them completely.
- Blend the tomatoes to a paste with all the powdered spices and the vinegar and set aside.
- Heat the oil over medium in a pan both wide and deep (this All-Clad pan is my preferred pan for all my pickles, chutneys and jams, and also for most of my curries and other braises).
- Add the mustard seeds to the oill.
- As soon as the mustard seeds begin to splutter add the curry leaves.
- Give the curry leaves a stir and add the tomato puree to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often till the oil begins to separate.
- Add the sugar and the salt and cook down further till thickened but still easily pourable.
- Fill in jars.
- Please note that though this recipe contains a lot of vinegar it is not tested for canning. I advise refrigerating it and finishing it within a month. This recipe will make about a pint and a half. Keep half a pint for yourself and give two half pints to friends who can handle the heat.
- Speaking of heat, I made this with three heaped tablespoons (almost 50 gms exactly) of extra-hot chilli powder from the local Indian grocery. This makes it very, very hot. Feel free to adjust the heat down to your tolerance—but it should be perceptibly hot at the least.
- I’m going to be making another batch soon—I’m planning to add some ginger to that one and to cook it down a bit thicker still.
- How to eat it? It’s great on the side with dal and rice. It’s also great in a sandwich with mozzarella and arugula or over fried eggs.
- One complaint about Usha’s Pickle Digest: she does not list the provenance of the pickles and chutneys in her book. #793—which is the base of this recipe—is, I think, in the South Indian thokku family. It would be nice if the book specified that.