Back in my New York apartment, my roommate Mary had a glorious plant. Lovingly named Bert. [don’t even ask me what plant family it belonged to – I’m thwarted with black thumbs remember?] Placed on the kitchen window sill of our east side apartment, Bert grew to abundance under Mary’s care. And I played no part in it. I’d totter around the kitchen, trying to avoid direct contact with the plant for fear that it would wilt at my gaze, as had the basil and mint plants that I had eagerly bought home in the past from the farmer’s market. The one time Mary left for a week-long vacation, she had trustingly placed Bert in my custody, with the simple instruction to water him every day. Five days later, a happy email from a vacationing Mary:
how’s it going? I’m having a blast. How’s Bert?
huh? Bert? Bert who?….OMG. thaaaat Bert. ack. uh-ooooh…
Needless to say, my desperate attempts to revive Bert over the next two days left him dangerously teetering on the brink of survival until Mary’s return, until she could snatch the poor parched thing out of my hands and nurture it back to life. Thanks to Mary, Bert lived. And so did the mini-cacti that we had bought together when we moved in, which I remembered to water six months later in a random nostalgic moment that seized me as Mary and I were chit chatting on the couch. Turns out, diligent Mary had been watering the baby cacti every couple of days. Those scraped through too, no credit to yours truly.
Oh whatdya know, black thumbs do exist according to the urban dictionary. Definition #1 “A wannabe gardener who kills plants. Opposite of green thumb.” and definition #2 “Similar to green thumb, but further than plants. everything one touches turns to shit.” Yep, those describe me perfectly. Thank goodness someone’s coined a term for sorry souls like myself, who walk around like dementors delivering the kiss of doom to any poor seedling that hopes to sprout up on their window sills.
Turning off my morbid tap, let me introduce you to the person who I hold as highly as I did Mary when it comes to green thumbs. The lady who managed to grow not one, not two, but hundreds and hundreds of tomatoes right in her backyard. In Dubai. [The city where if you really want to flourish out in the open, you’d better be a camel or a cactus.] This desert tomato queen would be Linda, aka boozychef on twitter, and the wonderfully talented foodie blogger who unleashes her recipes along with her university bud, Nic, on a site cleverly called Ballpark It!
Linda had harvested so many tomatoes – frozen 200 already, given away 300, shoved some in olive oil and basil, transformed a batch into pasta sauce – that the big task ahead of her was how to preserve the rest of the gorgeous pulpy fruit that was spilling over into her kitchen.
When I heard her voice urgently call out over facebook for new preservation ideas because her tomato field in this godforsaken desert had been such a roaring success, I (a) nearly fell of my chair. Laying on the ground, I stared at my black thumbs – we would never see the face of such a problem. Ever. and (b) when I’d scrambled back into place, I put my fatal fingers to one of the few constructive things they do well – responding to facebook messages. I excitedly typed away, suggesting that how about Lin come on over with her gorgeous tomatoes and learn to make traditional Hyderabadi Tamatar ki Chutney (spiced tomato chutney) with mom? I mean, which person bursting at the seams with awesome homegrown tomatoes (or as Lin puts it, crack tomatoes) could refuse an offer like that? And that’s how our crack tomato chutney session with mom was planned.
This chutney is not just your ordinary pureed-tomatoes-dunked-in-a-bottle chutney. Ma simmers the tomatoes in oil until they’ve reduced down to a thick pulpy paste, along with a range of spices that are thrown in with such ballpark precision that I could see Lin and ma bonding over the totally irreplicable nature of the dish. With two experienced chefs wielding their magic over those fresh juicy tomatoes, I just stepped back, observed, photographed, and most notably, served as quality controller, popping a couple of those plump babies in my mouth every now and again to ensure that a bad one hadn’t snuck up on us.
And as always happens when I’m surrounded by the aromas of fresh veggies and coriander seeds and cumin and garlic dried red chillis and everything else that ma pulls out of her bottomless spice closet, I enter into a trance-like state, hopping around the pot, chattering, day-dreaming, whiling away time until a taste test is required. And sadly paying zero attention to what’s been thrown into the wok. SO if you need the recipe, do hit up the ballpark mistress on her website and snag the recipe off of her.
At home, we store this chutney in the fridge for over a month, even two months, taking it out every 15 days and reheating it to avoid spoilage. The excess oil helps preserve the chutney for longer, though we drain it off when it’s time to eat. Favorite mealtime ideas are to ladle it over rice South Indian-style, or throw it in a sandwich with cheese for a quick spiced tomato and cheese bite over lunch. Or dip anything dippable (aka finger) into it and just snack on it like a pickle. Or maybe get super creative and drizzle it on puff pastry with a few spicy Thai basil leaves and goat cheese, as inspired by Sandy’s creation on her blog Out and About in Dubai.
Talking about basil…has someone watered my basil plant on the kitchen window? Mom?…