Jaya is the cook at my parent’s home. Her hair has grown into a longish boy crop after her mottai at her kula deivam kovil. She comes in every morning and asks my mother for the day’s menu. They chat for a bit. She talks about her grandkids sometimes. She sits down on the floor with the “Arvamanai” to cut her vegetables. She takes her time. She arranges them into neat piles on a large plate and then moves to the stove to cook.
She is an oil-guzzler. Her seppan-kezhangu roast (arbi/colocasia) is an absolute beauty – golden crisp, crunchy kezahngu with plenty of those irresistible fried masala streusel bits. I eat her seppan-kezhangu roast straight, not with rice or alongside anything, just straight. I realized that that kind of a beautiful roast requires that much of oil. At that moment I also learnt why sometimes the same recipe tasted so divine when my Ammama made it, when my mother made it but just didn’t seem as great when I tried it. Two things I often am guilty of doing – skimping on oil/ghee and not being patient enough for the onions to brown, for the tomatoes to turn mushy. It makes all the difference. I’ve hence decided that I either make the dish whole-heartedly using as much oil as it takes or not make it at all.
Jaya also makes the most amazing tomato chutney – a deep red chutney, oil glistening around the edges dotted with mustard seeds and curry leaves. This tomato chutney is unlike your other chutnies. You’d fry your ingredients and then grind them to make your chutney. Not this one. It is done backwards. You grind your tomatoes and chillies and then cook the chutney.
The chutney is such a fine balance of hot, tart and sweet flavours, that can come only when the chutney is slowly simmered in plenty of oil until the oil oozes out the sides. That is the sign of doneness. That is the point when hot, tart and sweet reach that lovely symphony. Make this chutney for your idli, dosai or poori and I promise you you’ll never make tomato chutney any other way.
- Tomatoes – 6-7 large
- Whole dry red Chilies (long variety) – 5-7
- Garlic cloves - 3-4
- Salt to taste
- Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
- Curry leaves – 2 stems
- Cooking Oil – 3-4 tbsp
- Grind tomatoes, garlic and chilies to a fine paste.
- Heat a kadai. Pour oil into it. When oil is hot, add mustard seeds and let splutter. Add curry leaves. Fry for a minute.
- Pour in the pureed tomatoes, garlic and chilies. Cook on medium-high for about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low, add salt, mix well and cover with a lid and simmer for 10-15 minutes or till the oil oozes out from the edges and the chutney has turned a deep red. The chutney can splatter at this stage. So keep it covered.
- If chutney is not done yet, add 1-2 teaspoons of oil, cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Switch off when oil oozes out from the sides. Serve with idli, dosai or poori.