A Chutney for All Seasons

Parsi Tomato Chutney

My seasonal clock seems to be all messed up this year. Normally I don’t even wait for the first autumn leaf to hit the pavement before breaking out my Le Creuset and cranking up the oven. Things like cream, butter and cheese go from occasional indulgences to refrigerator staples, and salad relinquishes its starring role for supporting performances alongside soups, stews and roasts. Not this year. To date I’ve bought one winter squash, have made exactly nothing with mushrooms, potatoes or pears, and haven’t so much as shown a dust-rag to my poor Le Creuset. For crying out loud, I haven’t even had a cup of hot chocolate! Instead we’re still eating things like this, my fridge is full of eggplants and zucchini, and I’m posting recipes a week before November that call for multiple pounds of fresh tomatoes. What on earth is wrong with me?

The easy answer would be our summer travels. Not only did it cause me to miss out on one of the most important food months in the northern European seasonal calendar—which correspondingly pushed my whole eating calendar out of whack—but it got me so hooked on the fresh, bright flavors of the Orient that even now that the weather here has taken a turn towards the Arctic I can’t stop filling my shopping cart with warm-climate imports instead of what’s currently in season here.

In reality, though, I think the reason probably has more to do with what lies ahead than behind. The fact is that I’m simply not ready to face winter again. I was telling Manuel yesterday that life in Germany seems to have two modes: dealing with winter or dreading it. That blissful in-between time of endless blue skies and soft, golden evenings which should be a northern climate’s reward for suffering through the bleaker months just didn’t last long enough this year. By my count there were two good months this summer, one of which we weren’t even here for (and yes, we had plenty of heat in Asia, but it wasn’t exactly weather conducive to enjoying the outdoors!), and that’s certainly not long enough to erase the sting of seven months of misery. I feel like I spent so much time longing for summer and planning all the ways I would enjoy it that now that it’s over—and most of those plans never made it off the shelf—I’m in a kind of denial. Enough denial, it seems, to forsake many of the foods I spend all year looking forward to. Or, at least, enough to postpone enjoying them for a bit longer.

You don’t need to find yourself in seasonal denial to make this chutney, though. In fact, this might just be the perfect time to make it. You see, while for most tomato recipes you want the heavy, sweet specimens of summer, for this one those would be a little wasted. That’s not to say you’d want the utterly flavorless winter tomatoes here, but the ones you find at this time of the year are sort of in between, not worth rhapsodizing over but definitely capable of showing some spunk when left on a low flame for a few hours to mingle with some garlic, ginger and spices. Of course if you still have good tomatoes by all means use them; for those of us that don’t live in a magical sun-kissed fairyland, however, whatever can be dredged up at the supermarket will be more than adequate.

Actually it’ll be nothing short of amazing, as everything I’ve ever subjected to this recipe has been. I’m generally pretty picky about my chutneys, particularly those in the sweet, cooked genre (as opposed to any of the myriad herb/chile/nut/coconut concoctions that are blended fresh); for example, there’s nothing I hate more than so-called ‘chutneys’ that are actually lightly-spiced fruit jams interrupted by a few slivers of rubbery, barely-cooked onion. Or in other words, most of the commercial chutneys I’ve ever bought. This one, though, is a different beast entirely. It comes from one of my favorite Indian cookbooks—make that one of my favorite cookbooks of any genre—My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King (from which this incredible curry also comes), and it has become my go-to recipe whenever I feel like bottling my own sweet-spicy-sour taste of the subcontinent. Not only does it have no rubbery pieces of onion, it requires very little in the way of exotica, which means that even those who don’t habitually dip their toes into Indian-food waters will be able to whip up a batch without needing to invest in a lot of esoteric ingredients. The spicing, nonetheless, is perfect: a tongue-titillating dance of sweet, sour, salty and hot discreet enough to harmonize with non-Indian flavors but complex enough to stand up on its own. In previous years I’ve made this chutney with apples and plums, and this year I finally gave it a try with tomatoes, which is what the recipe is actually written for. It’s been equally stellar with all of them, but the tomato version is perhaps the most versatile: so far I’ve enjoyed it smeared on all manner of sandwiches (try it on a BLT with avocado… drool!), layered with cheese and crackers for a snack, dolloped generously on takeout falafel, and mixed with a little mayo and sour cream for an addictive dip. And of course it goes without saying that a spoonful would enliven any plate of rice and curry under the sun.

It also adds a fantastic kick to, ahem, tuna and chicken salads. I imagine it would dress up a big chunk of roast meat like nobody’s business too, but if you want hard evidence on that I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a few more weeks for my report—or simply find out for yourself.

Parsi Tomato Chutney

Although this is called tomato chutney, it’s actually a recipe template that can be used with all kinds of seasonal fruit. I’ve done both apples and plums this way, but you could also try peaches, apricots, pears, quinces, cherries… Just make sure to tweak the seasoning after cooking so you have a good balance of sweet, sour, salty and hot. And here’s a tip: if you can’t face slicing all that ginger and garlic by hand, just throw them into a food processor (peeled, of course, and in the case of the ginger sliced into coins) and blitz them to a medium-fine chop. It won’t look quite as pretty, but it’ll taste just as good.
Source: slightly adapted from My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King
Makes: about 1 1/2 quarts/liters; recipe can easily be doubled

3 pounds (1.5kg) ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped (or pitted, chopped plums or peaches, or peeled, cored and diced apples, pears, quinces, etc.)
1/2 cup finely-julienned peeled ginger (about one 2.5-inch/6-cm-long piece)
1/2 cup thinly-sliced garlic (about one large head)
1 1/2 cups (375ml) cane, malt or cider vinegar
1/2 to 1 cup (75-150g) raisins (optional)
2 cups (400g) turbinado/raw sugar, or half light brown and half white
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons cayenne pepper or hot ground chile (or to taste)
1 small cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
grated peel of 1 organic orange (optional)

First, open a few windows (you’ll soon see why). Place all the ingredients except the orange peel (start with the smaller amounts given) in a heavy nonreactive pot and bring to a boil, stirring so everything gets well combined. Lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the chutney reaches the consistency of a soft jam. This will probably take at least 2 hours; you can speed things up by increasing the heat, but then you’ll need to remember to stir much more frequently. Particularly once it starts getting thick it can burn in a flash.

Adjust the balance of sugar, salt and vinegar while the chutney is still warm. Add the orange peel if you want it. Add more cayenne if you’d like it hotter. Preferably let it sit out for a day to let the flavors meld and then check the seasonings again. As Niloufer explains it, you want a taste of this chutney to “light up your mouth”; I like to think of it as a wrestling match between sweet, sour, salty and hot.

To bottle for shelf-storage, bring the chutney back to a rolling boil for 2 minutes, then proceed with your favorite canning method. Otherwise, it will keep a good few weeks in the fridge (particularly if you’ve used the full amount of cayenne!).

22 thoughts on “A Chutney for All Seasons

  1. I am totally with you about your feelings on German climate. I just can't resign to the idea of other long months of seclusion. People keep telling me last year was much colder than usual, but this one is not starting any better. Cooking anyway is my favourite go-to option for running away from the ice. And what is better than a spicy kick from a nice chutney to make you smile again? Thanks so much for this recipe. I think I'll try with seasonal fruit though.

  2. Hi Melissa,You have no idea how much pleasure your travel stories have given me. Life is pretty hectic right now, but whenever I need a few minutes away, I come here and read snippets at a time, saving more for later. I love Parsi cooking AND chutneys, so this one is going to be made pretty soon.Here's hoping you can sneak in a few more summer bits before winter descends on you.Best,HeenaP.S. You might be interested in a roasted red pepper chutney from Jamie Oliver that has the goodness of caramelized onions, rosemary, balsamic and cinnamon. It's one of my favorites and I've already covered it on my blog twice, once making a 'sauce' for chicken with goat cheese and recently making savory homemade pop-tarts.

  3. OOOh! Looks like another winner from Niloufer. I reach out for 'My Bombay Kitchen' any time I run out of ideas, and it always delivers. What a great book.

  4. dearest melissa, if this chutney is even half as yummy as that divine olive jam of yours, you must seriously consider rolling out a line of handcrafted preserves – i am convinced you'll mint enough to buy a holiday home for escaping dreary winters, perhaps somewhere in our neck of the woods! xo,joycelyn

  5. This looks really wonderful. I've been researching chutney recipes for the next few weeks of making Christmas gifts, so I think this one is now at the top!

  6. Hey, I stumbled upon your site last week. We've already made the Banh Mai recipe you posted… so good! Just like I remembered. We used to live in Seattle and can no longer find them since we moved. Now if we could just find the right kind of bread.Anyways, love the site and thanks for the great recipes!

  7. My wife and I tried it and it was good. We made some variations like adding ripe mangoes, and we omitted the raisins because we both are not fond of it. Instead of pure apples, we made it half apples half turnips, both diced. This is a very good recipe. Thanks!Brad Kent

  8. Ditto on winter in Germany! Tomato chutneys are really great. I've been making them since time immemorial but I sure will want to try what you have here. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  9. Your line about life in Germany made me laugh. Dealing with the cold does seem to be a leitmotif here! 🙂 This recipe makes me want to leave my desk chair NOW and get cooking. I've heard so many good things about this book. Hope you're staying warm!

  10. Just made this chutney today with a mixture of tomatoes, apple, and pear. It's delicious. The sweet and tangy chutney will be paired with toasted polenta rounds and sharp English cheddar for a catering event I'm doing on Thursday. Going to be a huge hit! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Thanks for this amazing recipe. I made a double batch (sans raisins) and canned it in cute 5 oz jars for Christmas gifts. Huge hit. I also canned your olive jam…divine. Can't decide which I like better…I'm glad I don't have to choose! Merry Christmas

  12. Thanks to everyone who's reported back after making the chutney! I'm glad to hear it's been such a hit. 🙂

  13. The tomato chutney looks particularly amazing… I am definitely going to have to make them as soon as possible. I won’t wait for tomorrow that is for sure! Many thanks for the recipe.

  14. This is actually the first time that I comment on anybody's blog, but after cooking and tasting this chutney I just felt I had to give something back for the gift of this recipe. This thing is nothing short of amazing, a symphony of taste and smell and texture, a really complete taste. It actually has several layers of flavor, quite distinct from one another, with lemony ginger and vinegar coming first, followed by the orange (do not even think to omit it by the way!), then there comes the bite of pepper and finally it settles to a sweet orange aftertaste… Seriously, this thing is probably addictive! I halved the quantities because (imagine!) I wasn't sure of the outcome and I am already planning for 3kg of tomatoes on my next trip to the market. The only thing that I would like to try to change to see how it affects the taste is cider vinegar, as is quite difficult to find cane or malt vinegar in Greece. On the other hand it is quite easy to find good tomatoes so I am not complaining.So, thank you very very much for this recipe which I am sure I will be making a lot of in the years to come.

  15. Oh my gosh… just made this with some brandywine tomatoes on the edge. It was wonderful 'til I added the orange, at which point it became my new favorite food. I'll double the recipe next time.

  16. LOVE this recipe!I brought to a rolling boil and put the chutney in sterilized jars, but am not sure if that's sufficient for canning purposes. If I do want to can and eat months down the road, should I have used a hot water bath? If so, does for how long? I'm new to canning and still learning, so any advice anyone can offer would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  17. This chutney sounds yummy & looks tempting too! I will definitely try it soon. Although, I made a similar chutney with plums. It came out soooo good. My family was enjoying it for so many days. Before making it, I never thought of making chutney with fruits, but I have begun to realize the goodness of enjoying the fruity, spicy & sweet flavors of such chutneys. India has a rich collection of diverse & complex cuisines, I am from Delhi but have never come across such recipes before. Thanks for sharing and I'll let you know how it turns out!

Comments are closed.