That tomato is a fruit becomes obvious once you pair it with sugar or sweet ingredients. One of the main aromatic components of tomato, furaneol, is also called strawberry furanone by fragrance and flavor chemists, because it’s such an important note in the complex berry aroma. Incidentally, it’s one of the reasons behind difficulties with tomato accords in perfumery–they smell of red berries if there is even a modicum of sweetness in the formula. It’s therefore natural to treat tomato in much the same way as you would a fruit–cooking it into jams, combining it with sweet pastry or melting it down with vanilla and caramel for an ice cream sauce. Or you can make it into a sweet chutney to be served with grilled meat or rice dishes.
Chutney is an Indian sauce that may be raw or cooked, and the ingredients run the gamut from fruits and vegetables to beans and nuts. I’m a chutney fiend. I firmly believe that a dollop of chutney makes anything better–a sandwich, a bowl of rice, a piece of grilled chicken. So do many Indians, because not only do they excel in coming up with the most unusual chutney combinations, they don’t hesitate in pairing them together. For instance, spicy green coriander chutney is often partnered with a sweet date one. As you dip crisp eggplant fritters first in one, then the other and experience the explosion of flavor, you understand how silly is the whole idea of “less is more.”
Chutney is an obvious choice for a dish that highlights the sweet, fruity notes of late summer tomatoes. My recipe makes a thick jam-like sauce, but it’s bright and sharp like a pickle. This sweet and sour combination is addictive, but the best part is that the spicing of this recipe coaxes much flavor out of tomatoes, even if you’re starting with lackluster produce.
Cinnamon adds sweetness, while cardamom and ginger provide a zesty top note. Fennel is a perfect spice to pair with tomatoes; it makes even the greenhouse variety more perfumed. Finally, turmeric deepens the color and adds a velvety, earthy accent. I often sprinkle it into classical Italian tomato sauces for an additional–and intriguing–layer of flavor.
I gild the lily by adding raisins, cashews and pistachios. Raisins give more sweetness and allow me to cut down on sugar in the recipe, while the nuts are for texture and color. Few things are as attractive as the combination of red and pistachio green. I see no reason to be a minimalist here. That’s not the point of chutney.
The proportions are flexible, and you can vary them to taste. The only part of the recipe to be careful about is when you fry the spices. You want to unlock their aromas in hot oil without singeing them. Turmeric especially is prone to burning and turning bitter, so when you add it to the pan, stir the contents well and keep the heat at medium. Overall, the recipe is simple.
In India chutney appears on your plate next to pickles and flatbreads. I extrapolate on this idea by smearing it on bread and topping the sweet-and-tangy layer with Cheddar or goat cheese. Roast turkey is much improved by chutney, and fish like salmon or mackerel stand up well to its bold flavors.
Sweet Tomato Chutney with Pistachios and Raisins
1 lb (500g) tomatoes
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 2″ stick of cinnamon
3 cardamom pods, cracked
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled, minced
1 hot red chili pepper, minced (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup (50g) light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons (25g) apple cider or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup raisins
2 Tablespoons pistachios, whole
2 Tablespoons cashews, roughly chopped
Peel tomatoes by cutting a small cross on the top of each tomato. Place tomatoes into a sieve and pour boiling water over them. The skin should come off easily. If the seeds are bitter, then remove them but save the juice. Chop roughly and set aside.
Heat vegetable oil in a large, heavy, nonreactive pot over medium heat. Add spices and toss them in oil until the cardamom pods swell, about 1 minute. Add turmeric powder, minced ginger, minced chili pepper and mix everything well, about 1 minute.
Add tomatoes and toss them in the spicy oil. Cook till tomatoes start to reduce, about 10 minutes. Add salt, sugar and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Add vinegar, raisins and nuts. Reduce the heat and simmer without a cover, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Cook until the mixture is the consistency of jam, about 10 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.
Cool. Ladle into a clean jar and store in the fridge. Chutney will keep for about a month.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin