Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Saving the Green Tomatoes: Spicy Green Tomato Chutney

Today is halfway into November and last night, my tomato plants finally froze. We have seen several frosts over the last three or four weeks, but they never crept into our yard, until last night. My fig trees threw off their leaves like they couldn't wait while the peppers and tomato plants just shriveled and hung their leaves like wet socks. Little green figs still hang out there naked but I don't have any uses for them. The green tomatoes will make an awesome chutney, perfect for spicing up dull fall meals.

I am using a Russian recipe as my inspiration but adjusting it a bit with fig leaves, thyme, dates and wild crabapples. Fig leaves add such a tropical coconut flavor while the thyme adds butteriness and the crabapples add pectin. My yellow crabapples are from a tree I rescued from the woods and I use it as the bee attractor for my early blooming apply trees.

I love the colors of the green tomatoes as some are solid green while others have a touch of pink or orange. They are slightly sweet with a touch of acidity and more meaty than ripe tomatoes. They should be perfect for a preserve.

My first job was to wash the tomatoes and then chop them up into somewhat small bits. I started with my knife and quickly realized chopping would take me forever so I switched to my food processor. After a couple of pulses, I had the perfect uniform size. I tossed them into my largest pot.

In the meantime, I decided to cook my crabapples separately so I could put them through a food mill to remove the seeds and stems. I use an antique food mill I have had for decades, but you can find new models at lots of stores. I covered the crabapples with water, brought them up to a boil and let simmer until they were soft. They were easy to process and the soft yellow mash blended perfectly into the colors of my green tomatoes.

Chutney needs spice and to bring out more of the flavor, I toasted them over a medium flame for a couple of minutes while trying to keep the mustard seeds from popping out. The heat seems to intensify the flavors of dried spices. Some recipes call for the spices to be ground but I decided to leave mine whole as I love the pop of mustard seeds and the spiciness of black peppercorns. Besides, after grinding spices and cooking them, they can seem a bit more bitter in the end product.

My recipe called for a mash of ginger, garlic and chilis and while I had all the ingredients, I didn't quite make a mash. Instead, I used a microplane to grate the ginger, chopped and mashed the garlic and coarsely chopped the peppers with my regular kitchen knife.

Since all the ingredients would simmer away for a couple of hours, I knew the garlic and peppers would soften but heat doesn't soften the ginger fibers. I needed to break down all the fibers beforehand - hence the microplane.

Now for the heat. I had a couple of chili peppers from my now dead garden as well as a couple of jalapenos and habaneros from the bottom of my frig. I looked around for a pair of gloves to protect my fingers from the oils, but...oh well.

I deseeded them as the texture of pepper seeds is almost never desirable, and chopped up the peppers coarsely. My fingers were so spicy even after washing them with soap and water.

Now I don't know how many people know that fig leaves give off a coconut flavor. I personally found out the first year I grew the plants. When we had our first freeze, the leaves fell to the ground and smelled strongly of coconut. After a little research, I found that I could use them in cooking. I remove the center stem and then chop the leaves so that they will blend into whatever I am cooking. I added a little thyme too.

I knew I needed sweetness to cut the heat of the peppers and wanted more of an earthy sweetness so I used raw sugar cubes and chopped dates. I did try using the food processor for the dates, but they just stuck to the blades. My knife worked just fine.

I kept adding each ingredient to the pot which I had on a low flame. By the time the vinegar was added, there was only about a half of an inch of room to the rim. I kept the heat very low and let the chutney simmer for a couple of hours, stirring every thirty minutes or so.

 Finally, I jarred it up into wide mouth pint jars and processed them in a hot water bath for about ten minutes. A quick wipe and tightening of the lid and they were ready to rest.

Here is the actual recipe:

Spicy Green Tomato Chutney

3 kg green tomatoes
125 g crabapples
2 heads of garlic
75 g minced ginger
4 tbsp yellow mustard seeds
6 green chilies- or similar
2 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp fenugreek
1 tbsp cumin seeds
5-8 cardamom seeds
2 tbsp chopped fig leaf
125 g chopped dates
500 g raw sugar
2 tbsp sea salt
1 tsp thyme
500 ml red wine vinegar

Use a food processor to chop tomatoes. Pour into a large pot and place on low heat.

Place crabapples in pot, cover with water, cover and cook until tender - about 12 minutes. Process through a food mill to remove seeds and stems. Add resulting mash to tomatoes.

Toast the spices in a dry pan over medium heat until their fragrance is released and the mustard seeds start popping. Add to tomatoes.

Mince ginger with microplane. Chop garlic and chili peppers. Add to tomatoes.

Remove center stems of fig leaves and chop finely. Add to tomatoes.

Coarsely chop dates. Add to tomatoes.

Add raw sugar, thyme,  salt and vinegar to tomatoes.

Stir tomato mixture and simmer for 2 - 3 hours, stirring well every 30 minutes.

The finished chutney will be thick but still have a saucy aspect. Pour into sterilized pint jars, cover and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

That's it! Try this spicy green tomato chutney on your next turkey sandwich. It might be your new favorite condiment.