Fresh Tomato Chutney (Tamatar Chatni)

Here is a simple but wonderful chutney to serve with a curry dinner or other savory meal. I learned this delightful condiment from a lady from Karachi, Pakistan, who was doing graduate studies in the US. She served it with Lamb and Rice Biryani, Pakistan’s national dish. 

The secret is the freshest, ripest, sweetest tomatoes available at the time, whether locally grown regular ones, good Roma tomatoes or cherry, grape, or “Campari” tomatoes. 

The recipe serves six to eight as a condiment. 

1 pound fresh, ripe tomatoes

1/2 small red onion

1/2 of a medium-sized bunch of cilantro

1/2 teaspoon salt

A generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper

A generous sprinkle of cayenne

Juice of 2 medium limes 

For regular or Roma tomatoes, cut out the cores, then cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch wide wedges For smaller tomatoes, halve the lengthwise or slice 1/4-inch thick. Place tomatoes in a bowl. 

Place cut side of peeled, halved red onion on a board. Slice lengthwise into very fine julienne, and add to the tomatoes. Cut leaves off cilantro, chop the very coarsely, and add it to the bowl. Half an hour before serving, add salt, seasonings and lime juice. 

Stir carefully but thoroughly. Let sit ten minutes. Mix again, then taste. Add salt and/or lime juice to taste. Let sit at least a few more minutes. Stir again just before serving.



Split Pea Soup with Ham

My mother frequently made this hearty but economical soup, whenever we had a ham bone left over from a Sunday dinner. I always enjoyed it. 

Pea soup is apparently native to Holland, where it’s called “Snert.” That soup, sold by vendors along the frozen canals to people skating by. is made very thick (“so you can stand a spoon in it”). Celery root (“celeriac”) is preferred over celery. A traditional garnish for pea soup is “rookworst” (ROKE- vourst), a ring-shaped, smoked pork and beef sausage.

If you have a bone left over from a ham dinner, cut the ham off it for later use and simmer the bone in with the peas. Remove it when the soup is nearly done, before adding the meats.

Actually, a very tasty pea soup can be made vegetarian by increasing the vegetables a bit and browning them slightly when frying them before adding them to the simmering soup.

The recipe serves six to eight, but leftovers are great.

1 pound (2 1/4 cups) dry green split peas
8 cups water
A ham bone, if available (cut the meat off it for use later in the recipe)
1 large bay leaf
1 medium-large onion
2 medium-large carrots
A small celeriac or 2 sticks celery
3 cups broth made from the vegetable trimmings and peels
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt, plus to taste
1/2 teaspoon dry savory or oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus a little at the end
1/2 pound leftover ham or use smoked sausage

Rinse peas. Place in pot with water. Bring to a boil. Skim off foam. Add bay leaf. Simmer, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot, until peas start to break down.

Meanwhile peel onion, carrots and celeriac, if used. Make broth with peels, leaves of celery, if used, plus 3 cups water, simmering 20 minutes.

Coarsely dice the peeled or trimmed vegetables. Fry them with the oil until softened. Add to simmering peas.

Strain broth into soup. Add salt, dry herbs and pepper.

Simmer until peas disintegrate and vegetables are very tender. Add water, as needed, to make the consistency of heavy cream. Remove ham bone, if used.

Cut ham into 1/4-dice, or slice sausage into 1/4-inch discs. Add to soup. Simmer 10 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. Stir in a generous sprinkling of ground black pepper. 



Iced “French” Cucumber Soup, a Summer Treat 

Here’s a refreshing and hearty cold soup, a little suggestive of Crème Vichyssoise, that I learned over fifty years ago. My wife, Christina, had learned the recipe from a family for whom she babysat as a student. It’s an unusual dish in that the cucumbers are cooked, then pureed then chilled. 

While there are cold uncooked cucumber soups in France, they’re more like gazpacho or the Middle Eastern cucumber and yogurt soup. So I don’t know if this is actually an old-fashioned soup from France, or an American concoction. Vichyssoise, after all, was invented in New York, although by a French-born chef. I have not encountered this type of cucumber soup in France or in my culinary reading. 

The original recipe used chicken broth, and it’s delicious. But the soup it can also be made successfully substituting vegetable bouillon cubes.

The recipe makes 6-7 cups, to serve six. Make ahead and refrigerate, Serve cold.

4 cups unseasoned chicken broth or 8 cups water plus 3 large vegetarian bouillon cubes

1 1/2 large (European style) cucumbers, unpeeled, cut in chunks

1 large onion, peeled and chunked

1 large stick celery, rinsed and chunked

1 medium-large russet potato, peeled and chunked

1 medium clove garlic

2 bay leaves

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon dry thyme

Pinch of cayenne

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup cream

Salt to taste

Minced parsley for garnish 

Bring broth or bouillon, vegetables, herbs and spices, but not milk, cream, salt or minced parsley to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 1/2 hour. Remove bay leaves. 

Let cool a little. Transfer the liquids and vegetables to a blender or food processor, part at a time, and puree them. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the milk and cream. Taste and add salt, a little at a time, until the soup is well seasoned. 

Refrigerate until chilled. The soup will store 5-6 days cold, Stir and check the salt before serving. Serve cold, sprinkled with a little minced parsley.



Middle Eastern Braised Lamb and “Fava” Beans 

Lamb and fava beans are both favorite ingredients in the Middle East, from Greece and Turkiye all the way to Egypt. Together lamb and favas make a richly flavored and delightful dish. 

I enjoy both ingredients, though fresh fava beans are hard to find, and I substitute the big “Fordhook” lima beans, which are available frozen at the supermarket. Fresh ground lamb is also sometimes hard to find. It’s readily available in Atlanta in places where the Muslim community shops, like Dekalb Farmers Market and Buford Highway Farmers Market and at Halal butcher shops. But it’s also at stores elsewhere, including here in Athens, GA, that carry good and especially local meats, and sometimes at the Athens Farmers Market. Lamb is a little pricy, but it’s very flavorful and you don’t need a lot. Ground beef chuck can substitute, though the flavor is not as rich. 

My version of this dish uses red wine in the cooking. Greeks, Israelis, and Christian Arabs can cook with wine, but it’s forbidden – haram -- for Muslims. Chicken broth can replace the wine.  

The traditional accompaniment for braised lamb is a rice dish, such as a pilaf. But simple boiled rice serves well too. (I have two rice pilaf recipes on this blog, a Turkish-style one posted on 8/24/19, and a more American-style one posted on 8/1/22.) 

The recipe serves six. A dollop of whole-milk yogurt, or sour cream, can be put on top of the lamb dish when eating. 

1 pound freshly ground lamb (or beef chuck)

1 medium onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup red wine

1 tomato, finely chopped (or 1 tablespoon ketchup)

3/4 cup water, plus more as needed

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more if needed

3/4 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 (12 ounce) package frozen large (“Fordhook”) lima beans 

In heavy pot, fry the ground meat with the minced onion and garlic until color has fully changed. Add wine, tomato or ketchup, water, salt, herbs and spices. Cover pot and cook over low-medium heat, stirring every few minutes, for 15 minutes. Add a little water if needed to keep a little liquid in the pot. 

Add the still-frozen lima beans. Stir, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally and adding a little water if needed to keep from drying. The beans take about 20 minutes to cook until tender. 

Taste a bean for tenderness and salt. Add salt if needed. When beans are tender, remove from the heat. 

Serve with rice pilaf or plain boiled rice.



Neapolitan Roasted Eggplant Casserole, a lighter dish for summer 

With summer coming on, eggplants will be plentiful. I love eggplant parmesan (Melanzane alla Parmigiana), but it’s a heavy dish, almost too heavy for summer. Here’s a lighter way, also Southern Italian, of making an eggplant casserole without all the heavy cheese and breading. 

As wonderful as eggplant can be, it has several unpleasant characteristics to overcome. The bitterness from traces of nicotine-like alkaloids (eggplant is related to tobacco, after all) needs to be salted out or roasted out. Eggplant also requires proper cooking to not be rubbery or spongy or have tough skin. 

To make the casserole you will first need to make (or buy) a tomato sauce (sometimes confusingly called “Marinara” – sailor’s sauce), There is a recipe in my blog posting from 6/12/23, which is just after this post. 

1 batch red tomato (“marinara”) sauce

1 large or 2 medium-large eggplants

3 tablespoons salt for the soaking water

3 eggs

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt for seasoning the flour

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Olive oil plus sunflower or other vegetable oil for frying

6 tablespoons coarsely grated parmesan cheese

Large sprig of fresh basil, optional 

Cut off stem end and the very bottom of the eggplant. With a vegetable peeler, peel off a narrow strip of skin from top to bottom on four sides of the eggplant. Slice eggplant crosswise 3/8-inch thick. In a large bowl dissolve the 3 tablespoons salt and about three quarts of water. Immerse the eggplant slices, mix them around occasionally, and soak them for 30 minutes or more to get out the bitter juices. 

In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne. 

Drain the soaked eggplant slices. Pat off excess moisture with paper towels. Dust eggplant lightly, a few at a time, with the seasoned flour. Tap them to shake off excess flour and dip them on both sides in the egg, shake off the excess egg then dust them lightly again with the flour. 

When all slices are prepared, heat a few tablespoons of each oil together in a large frying pan. Add a layer of eggplant slices, and turn them often with a spatula until light golden brown on each side. Remove to paper towel to drain excess oil. Add a little more of the oils to the pan if needed and continue to fry the rest of the eggplant and drain it as before. 

In an attractive shallow casserole dish, arrange a layer of the fried eggplant. Top lightly with tomato sauce and sprinkle lightly with grated parmesan. Do this again for a second layer, and a third layer if eggplant remains. Sprinkle any remaining parmesan over the top. If desired, place a sprig of basil on the center. The casserole can be baked now or stored, refrigerated, to bake later. 

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. 

Bake on the upper shelf of the oven until bubbling on the edges and the cheese on the top browns somewhat, 25-30 minutes. Turn the dish once or twice during the baking. 

Serve hot with a salad and crusty bread.



Tomato Sauce for Spaghetti, Lasagna, Pizza, and Baked Eggplant 

This is the simple red tomato sauce as I now make it after a long cooking career of experiment, trial and error. It still has elements of the way my mother made her spaghetti sauce.  Americans, but not Italians, often call this a “marinara” (sailor’s) sauce. Italians would call the vegetarian red tomato sauce simply “Sugo di Pomodoro” – tomato sauce. 

The sauce can be used on its own with pasta, topping it with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. If you simmer meatballs in this sauce, rather than fry them, you have a nice spaghetti and meatball topping for pasta, Or, use the sauce in making lasagna; add vodka and cream for a vodka sauce; or top breaded, fried sliced eggplant or chicken along with mozzarella cheese for eggplant parmesan or chicken parmesan. The sauce also works well on homemade pizza. 

The most important part of a good sauce is the quality of the tomatoes. At the restaurant we have access to wonderful “ground” (crushed) tomatoes from a specialist company in central California. But their products are only available commercially in bulk. In my experience with supermarket canned tomatoes, Hunts brand works the best. Since American tomatoes are somewhat acidic, and a little citric acid is used for safety in the canning process, adding some sugar to the sauce is helpful.  

2 large cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large (28-ounce) can crushed unseasoned tomatoes (Hunts works well)

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Small pinch ground cloves

2 tablespoons water to rinse tomato can

Mince the garlic and place it in a pot (not cast iron) with the olive oil. Do not heat yet. Open the can of tomatoes and add the seasoning ingredients to the top of the tomatoes. 

Gently fry garlic in oil until softened but not golden. Stir in tomatoes and seasonings. Put two tablespoons water into the tomato can, swish it around and add it to the sauce ingredients. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Taste and add a little salt, if needed.


Fresh Mozzarella and Basil Salad -- Caprese

The deceptively simple composition of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, sweet basil, olive oil and salt called “Insalata Caprese” (ka PRAY say), or “Caprese” Salad in North America, was developed during the early 20th century on the Isle of Capri, off the Italian coast near Naples. Delightful and refreshing, the ingredients are laid out boldly on a plate and sport the beautiful colors of the Italian flag. In Italy it’s an antipasto, or starter/appetizer course, rather than a side dish for a dinner.

The ultimate fresh mozzarella (“fior di latte,” or flower of milk) is made from buffalo ('bufala') milk, which is produced in Italy. But the more ordinary fresh domestic one, in its ball shape of various sizes, can also be luscious. The tomatoes are key. The Italian original was the San Marzano or plum type, to which our Roma is the closest. But the most important thing is that the tomatoes be ripe and flavorful. Off season, the tastiest available may be grape tomatoes. The basil should be fresh – I grow it. Good extra virgin olive oil is essential. Sea salt works well.

In the US, nontraditionally, Balsamic vinegar is sometimes sprinkled on the salad and sometimes a few capers are added. And if grape tomatoes are used, the Caprese can be served on skewers like small beautiful kebabs.

This recipe serves six as an appetizer or side dish.

2 ripe large regular tomatoes or 3 large Roma tomatoes or 1-3/4 cups of grape tomatoes

1 container (8 ounces, or more) fresh mozzarella cheese, any size

6-8 fresh basil leaves, more if small

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon capers (optional), drained

Wash the tomatoes and if using regular or Roma tomatoes, slice them 1/4-inch thick. Arrange on a serving plate or platter. If using the larger type of fresh mozzarella, slice them 1/4-inch thick. For the smaller “cherry” style mozzarella balls, leave them whole. Arrange them among the tomatoes. Sprinkle the cheese and tomatoes lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Rinse off the basil leaves. Stack them up on a cutting board and slice them in 1/8-inch slices. (Alternatively, if the leaves are small, they can be used whole.) Distribute the basil over the tomatoes and cheese. Shortly before serving, drizzle lightly with olive oil. If capers are used, drain them well and sprinkle them on the salad.

Serve with warmed Italian or French bread. 

Follow Us @donderoskitchen