January 21, 2012
The best part of this trip to Kerala has been the ability to watch local cooks in action. I've learned so much from just observing how they operate in their own kitchens and make dishes that I make regularly but with their own special twist. What has impressed me the most is their willingness to share. You just have to ask and suddenly you will be presented with a written list of recipes for your choosing.
We've been served such amazing dishes - simple and scrumptious at the same time. Take the funniest dish so far - 'egg in bed' - which we were served every morning during our stay at a residential homestay in Thalassery (Tellicherry) in North Kerala.
I found out later this was simply a South Indian Appam, or thin rice flour pancake with an egg cracked into it and cooked just before serving. There was also the complex-flavored tamarind prawns, beet chutney, and spicy rassam. Simple dishes but delicious, wholesome, and oh so memorable. Easily duplicated only once you've actually seen them made.
The most fun on this trip was walking into the Executive Club of the Westin on our first morning in Mumbai and finding sambhar, idlee, coconut chutney, and tomato chutney on the food bar along with oatmeal, salmon, and toast. I made a beeline for the Indian eats and immediately had to ask for the recipe for tomato chutney - it was that good. I have tried making it before, and even have a recipe in my next book which I like a lot, but this had something special added to it, and I just had to know what.
Chef Harvinder Matta immediately came to my table upon request and gave me his personal recipe. His trick, he says, is to temper the chutney twice.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pinch asafoetida (hing)
1 pinch turmeric
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated or chopped
1 - 2 green Thai chiles, chopped
1 teaspoon roasted split gram (chana dal) *
1/2 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne
2 - 3 large tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
6-7 curry leaves
salt to taste
1. Heat the tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat.
2. Add asafoetida, turmeric, ginger, chiles, split gram, red chile, and tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes completely soften.
3. Take pan off the burner and cool.
4. Grind tomato mixture in a blender until smooth and transfer to a bowl.
5. In a shallow pan, heat teaspoon of oil over medium-high heat.
6. Add mustard seeds and cook until the seeds pop and start to become aromatic. (You might need the lid of the pan to prevent the seeds from popping out.)
7. Add curry leaves and cook until slightly browned.
8. Add salt (1 teaspoon or so) and add this tempering to the blended tomato chutney. Serve with toast, as a side to a typical South Indian meal of sambhar and idlee, or with some rice with an Indian meal.
*Typically, in India you can purchase split gram pre-roasted. In the states that's tougher to do. Just purchase it from an Indian grocer and dry roast it for about a minute or two yourself, being careful not to burn it.
The beauty of this chutney is that it has a double tempering (infusion of hot oil with spices), which I never thought to do, but is a mainstay for Chef Matta, who used to work in Newcastle in England as a chef at the Spice Cube restaurant. He says he loves being a chef because he 'learns something new everyday'. It's fun to meet someone so talented yet so humble.