This season is not everyone’s favorite, I know—for many parents, it is a logistical and financial nightmare; for some students, it is a desert of uncertainty between the reliable if not necessarily beloved schedule of school. And for many of you, I know, it is just like any other time of year, only hotter.
Of course, I can’t pretend that, for me, the summer isn’t a very distinct time of year; I’m a teacher. Summer, while not so structurally helpful for the continuity of learning, is personally restorative for both faculty and students. It’s also a time period so mythologized in our culture—summer camp, summer vacation, summer road trips, summer romance—that it’s accompanied by the sheen of great expectations.
For me, this summer feels like an especially big one. There are no major vacations planned, no summer bucket list, no house projects, not even very many plans to leave the house. I’m being a little bit of a hermit this summer, but that’s because there is a new book to write.
Though my priority is to remain focused on the task at hand and take full advantage of the glorious, spoiling time I’ve been given this summer, I am trying to weave a few things into the hours that bookend work time. Sitting in the backyard with Jill, watching the purple martins fly in the darkening sky. Dance parties in the kitchen with Shiv before bedtime. Dinner with just-graduated students who have seamlessly transitioned to the friends I knew they’d be all along. Reading, reading, reading. And spending time with my mom in her kitchen, watching and taking notes. Shiv’s learning from her, too.
VEENA’S GARDEN TOMATO CHUTNEY
My mom got Jill into growing flowers, and Jill got my mom into growing vegetables. They are both instinctive, obsessive gardeners; whenever they talk about plants, it’s like observing a conversation in a foreign language. I just sit and marvel.
All of which means that mom grew the tomatoes and the curry leaves that she used to make this chutney. Jill & I liked the first batch so much (and consumed it so fast) that I asked mom to let me watch her make the second batch. For my benefit and the benefit of this blog, she kinda-sorta measured things, but as she would say, just go with it. You can’t screw this up.
Soak 1 T washed chana dal & 1 tsp. washed urad dal in a little bit of water for approximately 1 hour.
Make your vagar: heat 1 T canola oil over medium/medium high heat until it’s just beginning to shimmer. Add a pinch of asafetida & 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds—you want to hear the seeds pop; that’s how you know you got the oil hot enough. (If not, throw it all out and start again.)
Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the strained daals, along with a small, fresh chile pepper of your choice (my mom grows Thai bird chilies in her backyard, so that’s what she used). Cook the water off for just about one minute before adding: 1 T peeled & rough-chopped ginger, about 12-15 small curry leaves, approximately 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, & half of a large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks.
Stir everything together, add a bit of water to help soften the vegetables, then cover the pot. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the carrot pieces are soft and the tomatoes have opened. Add 1 tsp. tamarind paste plus 1/2 tsp. each ground coriander and cumin, and process everything in the blender until it’s reached your desired consistency, adding water if needed. Salt to taste.
Will keep in a jar in the fridge for weeks, although at my house it doesn’t usually last longer than one or two!