Years and years ago, my hubby Desi and I worked as journalists in Bombay. In fact, we first met on the job. After we were married, we moved to an apartment in Thane, a lovely and then laidback city just outside Bombay which is now part of its booming urban sprawl.
After deadline, we'd often take the last train home from Victoria Terminus and it would usually be past 2 in the morning when we got home. As anyone from India can relate to, we were rarely alone. We'd tag along other journalist friends or we'd have visiting relatives staying over. There always was a lot of cooking and eating involved in the middle of the night, and even at that hour it was always fun.
At 3 am in the morning, I learned how to make aloo parathas from my dear friend Seema. Another time, a friend who'd worked at a top restaurant in the city, taught me how to stir-fry noodles. Sometimes, we'd cook a big pot of biryani, break out the liquor and dance into the morning.
One fairly frequent visitor to our house in those days was Sampath, Desi's older brother, who lived in Pune and would sometimes visit Bombay on business. Sometimes, when Sampath got home before us, he'd cook for us. His favorite dish to make was tomato chutney. We were always more than thrilled to eat it.
Rich and tangy, tomato chutney is a traditional Tamil dish. Sampath made it so well, I can remember the taste of his tomato chutney today, so many years after. I have often made it in my kitchen since. And when I found my neighborhood grocery store selling tomatoes at a bargain this week, I couldn't help but stock up on armloads of it with the intention of cooking up as much tomato chutney as two people can possibly eat.
So here it, my very special tomato chutney that never fails to remind me of times and places and people so far away but never forgotten. Hope you enjoy it too.
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp udad dal (black gram dal)
1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
7-8 medium well-ripened tomatoes, diced
2 small onions, diced
1 sprig curry leaves
2 green chilies, minced
2 tsp sambar powder (you can use chili powder if you don't have any sambar powder on hand, Use 1 tsp or less depending on how much heat you can handle)
1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)
1 tsp canola or other vegetable oil
1 tbsp jaggery (unrefined Indian sugar, available in Indian grocery stores. You can leave this out, but I love the slight sweetness it adds to the dish)
Salt to taste
2-3 tbsp chopped coriander leaves for garnish
In a skillet, heat the oil.
Add the mustard seeds and blackgram dal. When the seeds sputter and the dal turns
lightly golden, add the onions and green chilies and stir for a minute.
Add the tomatoes, the sambar powder, the turmeric, and the curry leaves.
Stir well. The tomatoes will almost immediately start expressing their juices. Allow them to cook on medium-low heat for as long as it takes for most--but not all-- of the juices to evaporate. The tomatoes should have broken down completely.
Add the jaggery and salt to taste. Cook for another minute, stirring.
Add the coriander and turn off the heat.
Enjoy hot with some chapatis or rotis or with sambar and rice.