Bengali Tomato and Date Chutney
This recipe is in the book and being reposted. Original date: Nov,2009.
*Chaatni is the Bengali for Chutney
Tomato Chaatni was my staple diet as a kid. That and Chanar Dalna. I don't remember eating anything else much as a 5 year old. My memory has gone bad so I don't remember too much but the red tomato chutney still glistens on the steel tiffin carrier that the help along with my Mom would bring for school lunch every day until Grade 2. Tomato chaatni to me means a safe haven of home amidst strict nuns, new friends and a foreign language that I didn't understand.
Later the aamer ambol pushed tomato chaatni to second place but a childhood sweetheart always has its own special corner.
So one of these weekends we were at this lunch at a friend's house. When I had first met her a couple of years back, she had thrown me off by saying that she makes experimental dishes like chicken with cauliflower. She didn't even say that it tasted great or anything re-assuring about it. So the first time she invited us for dinner we went with a lot of trepidation. She is wonderful company and we thought that the evening would be great even if the chicken had cauliflowers.
It turned out she is a wonderful wonderful cook, all her dishes are fabulous and none of them were radical.The last time we were invited for lunch, she had made 70 vegetable chops, all perfectly shaped and fried. Ok, just to get things clear there were more people and we didn't eat the chops just by ourselves.
Her Tomato chutney or tomato chaatni was really good, studded with raisins, dates and aam shotto, it tasted heavenly. But there was a tang in that chutney that is missing in mine which I just attributed to her good cooking.
Later when I asked, she told me she had added some tamarind chutney to the tomato chaatni and that was the secret to its tangy taste. And then I remembered my Mom adding a little tamarind pulp to her tomato chutney too. How did I forget ? In fact my Mom sometimes would add whole tamarind, pits and all to the tomato chaatni and now that I remember I can hear the clatter of the deep brown tamarind pits on the steel plate as I sucked them out clean.
More than just the tamarind pulp the sweet-sour-spicy tamarind chutney really lends a nice dimension to the tomato chutney and makes it delicious, so do try it next time. Khejur or dates is the perfect company for the tomatoes in the chutney and that is how it is almost always made in a Bengali home. The aam shotto or aam papad/dried sweet mango slices is another delicious addition to the traditional Bengali Tomato chutney. Sadly I had none and so couldn't add any.
I have also made tomato chutney with cranberries when they are in season, the cranberries also add a nice tartness to the chutney but I must say I like this one better.
Tomato Khejur Chaatni/Chutney
Wash and chop 5/6 nice juicy plump red tomatoes in large-ish chunks, like say each tomato should be chopped in 8-10 pieces
Chop 20-30 pitted dates in halves or in thin slices
Heat Oil in a deep bottomed sauce pan
Temper the hot oil with 2 tsp of black mustard seeds and 2 dry Red Chili. Cover with a lid to avoid mustard dancing around your kitchen. Note: You can avoid the Chili if you don't want spicy
When the mustard sputters, add the chopped tomatoes, a pinch of turmeric, little salt and saute them. Then cover and cook the tomatoes at low heat. The juicy tomatoes will release a lot of liquid and will cook in their own juice. Every minute or so, remove the lid and give a good stir
Once the tomatoes are almost done, add the chopped dates, about 1/3 cup of golden raisins and stir well. If you have amswatta, add some chopped now. Add about 1 tsp of ginger juice, grate ginger and squeeze to get the juice. Add about 1/4-1/2 cup of water and cook for a few more minutes till the tomatoes have totally disintegrated and thoroughly cooked to a soft pulp.
Add 1/2 cup of sugar, mix well, adjust for salt & sugar and then let the chutney simmer and reduce to a thick consistency
Now is a small tip. To make the chutney tangy add 1-2 tbsp full of a tamarind chutney to the tomato chutney. You can use a store bought one or make one of your own using tamarind pulp. This really gives the chutney a sweet-tangy taste instead of just sweet.
Before serving, sprinkle with dry roasted cumin powder or dry roasted and ground paanch-phoron powder.
Updated on 11/10/2009: As I said in an earlier post a traditional Bengali meal usually consists of five to six courses, starting off with something bitter and ending with a sweet dessert. The fifth course served just prior to the dessert is the sweet & sour ambol or chutney.
The chutney (pronounced cha-a-tni in Bengali) in Bengal is not the chutney, sold in jars in the Asian/Indian Aisle of your SuperMarket and hugely popular in the Western World . The Chutney as we have it in a Bengali household is almost always prepared fresh and is eaten as a course of a lunch or a dinner to accent the meal and not as a relish or as a dip. It is the pickle which is preserved for later day use.
Updated on 12/01: A simpler recipe of Bengali Tomato Chutney from Eves Lungs as said in the comments
Dice 250 gm tomatoes . Temper a tsp pf paanch phoron in a little oil, add the tomatoes - add 1 cup of sugar . Cover and cook. Don't add water . You can also add some raisins . This tastes yummy. The tomatoes cook in the juice released from the vegetable as well as the sugar .
Tomato Khejur Cranberry Chutney -- a similar chutney with cranberries for added tartness