Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Heirloom Tomato Chutney

The tomatoes are coming! As summer continues to heat up, the next couple months will bring us piles and piles of ripe tomatoes. The number of varieties of heirloom tomatoes is pretty staggering: there are bright yellow lemon boys, Paul Robeson black tomatoes, Cherokee purple tomatoes and pantano romanesco, a meaty Roman heirloom the color of blood. And these barely scrape the surface of different varieties.

I have to be honest, most of the time at restaurants, I pick the tomatoes off my sandwiches or salads. Thick-skinned, with mealy mush beneath the skin and oozing seedy snot within, a bad commercially-produced tomato is something I just find inedible. But the world of fresh summer varieties that is just beginning and will continue through October is nothing like those insults of tomatoes you can find at restaurants in January. In addition to the variety of sizes, shapes and colors, heirloom tomatoes offer an incredible array of tastes and textures. There is no slime that oozes out when slice the thick meaty flesh of a fresh tomato. And each variety has its own particular flavor: both sweet and savory, with complex earthy notes and unique acidity.
Frankly, even with the beauty of these fresh summer heirlooms, I'm not going to bite into them like apples or slice them up and call it tomato salad. It's just not my thing. But salsa... don't get me started. Sweet summer salsa, using fresh tomatoes, or Grilled Salsa, using lightly cooked tomatoes, are just two options of the incredible-array of tomato-based salsas. Italian tomato sauce and Mexican salsas are two of the most popular options, but many cuisines make sauce out of tomatoes. This Indian-style heirloom tomato chutney is a perfect example. Sometimes in South India, we would be given a tomato-based chutney instead of the typically coconut chutney with our dosas or uttapams. They were often heavily spiced and vibrantly flavorful. But when the tomatoes alone have so much flavor, the recipe can be made even simpler. Here, small amounts of spices are toasted in coconut oil. Roasted garlic brings sweetness and ginger and jalapeño add some heat. A spoonful of tamarind concentrate accentuates the acidity and the blender makes it all silky smooth. Serve with rice, flatbreads or any Indian dish for a summery flavor explosion, courtesy of heirloom tomatoes!
Warming spices like cinnamon, fennel and coriander accentuate the tomatoes' complexity.

Heirloom Tomato Chutney
Using flavorful summer tomatoes requires little additional seasoning. If all you have is canned or store-bought, then increase the seasonings to your taste.

About 6 medium heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
2  tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 or 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-inch piece ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 jalapeño chile, seeded if less heat is desired
1 tablespoon unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
1-2 teaspoons agave nectar, or to taste
salt, to taste

For topping:
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
about 8 curry leaves, torn (optional)
Simmering chutney, before blending

In saucepan over medium-high heat, heat coconut oil. First add spices: coriander seeds, fennel seeds and cinnamon stick. Stir to toast one minute or so. Then add garlic, ginger and jalapeño. Stir to toast and coat with oil. When garlic begins to get golden, add tomatoes and shredded coconut, stir to combine and then reduce heat to medium-low. Add salt to taste. Simmer uncovered about 5 minutes, until tomatoes are broken down.
Remove cinnamon stick and transfer to blender, add agave and tamarind, blend until very silky smooth, adding a splash of water if it is too thick. Transfer to bowl.
Now, heat coconut oil and add mustard seeds and curry leaves, stir to toast one minute or so until the first mustard seed pops. Pour over chutney and serve.

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