The word probably comes from the Hindi word "chaatna," which means "to lick" and which also may have been the source of the term for Indian street food, chaat. Food historian Pushpesh Pant hypothesizes that chutneys may be among the oldest known prepared foods created by ancient people who crushed berries, fruits, nuts or seeds to intensify the taste of whatever they were eating.
Chutneys seamlessly transform into dips, spreads, vinaigrettes, marinades and toppings. I love to wake up salad dressings with a dollop of cilantro-mint chutney, or swirl olive oil into peanut chutney as a dip for chunks of crusty bread.
But, to me, the absolute best use of a chutney is in a sandwich, where it is used as a flavorful spread and brings all the ingredients together. A superb example is the Bombay sandwich, which has retained its name even though the city from which it hails has been renamed to Mumbai.
A street food, available in every nook and cranny of the city, it is prepared with white bread, butter, cilantro chutney and a mountain of vegetables, such as slices of boiled beets and potatoes, as well as raw cucumber, red onion and tomatoes seasoned with chaat masala.
The hot, spicy, tangy and herby cilantro chutney acts as a flavor foundation of the sandwich and pulls the whole dish together by offering a taste contrast to the crunchy, pulpy, soft, chewy vegetables.
In India, chutneys are usually are made from vegetables, fruits, herbs, seeds, lentils, dried fish, meat and even nuts, and vary in texture from smooth, to coarse, to granular, or even gooey, while nut and lentil chutneys are pounded into dry powders that get mixed with oil and are used for dipping roti.
Relished throughout India, each state, depending on local climate and vegetation, has its own chutneys. Bhaang (leaves of Indian cannabis) chutney from Uttarakhand in the north, and akhuni (fermented soybean paste) chutney from Nagaland in the east are two examples. Prepared with seasonal ingredients, many chutneys are meant for immediate consumption, though in true Indian culinary style where exceptions to the rule abound, you'll find peanut, sesame and flax seed chutney from Maharashtra in the west, lentil chutneys called podis in the south, and fruit chutneys from West Bengal in the east that have a long shelf life.
Unlike their Indian counterparts, Western chutneys such as Major Grey squarely fall in the category of relishes and preserves. More sweet than hot, and laden with spices and dried fruits, they are typically served with meat and cheeses
According to archaeologist and culinary anthropologist Kurush F Dalal, chutneys are characterized by pounding or crushing the ingredients together, a concept mentioned throughout the Vedas, ancient Hindu texts. With the exception of certain chutneys cooked to an extract (not unlike jams and relishes,) such as fruit chutneys in eastern parts of India and tamarind chutney in the north, chutneys are ground either in a mortar and pestle or blended in mixies (a popular name for blenders in India).
Vikram Doctor, a food writer, told me he prefers the grainier texture of chutneys made in a mortar and pestle.
In her book "World on a Plate," author Mina Holland writes that Indian food is essentially driven by home cooks, and with each household using slightly different ingredients, there is no one recipe for dishes such as dal or palak paneer. Like other cuisines with rich oral traditions and where cooking is learned by spending time in the kitchen, Indian food is more of an approach rather than a prescription, and chutney is no different.
Cooks in the state of Maharashtra have a chutney template: a star ingredient, an herb or vegetable, a heat source such as dry red or fresh green chile or red chile powder, a tart agent in the form of lime or lemon juice or tamarind, and a homogenizing agent such as peanut sesame or pepita powder or stir-fried lentils that thicken and enrich. Ginger and/or garlic are optional and lend extra flavor.
Depending on the star ingredient, chutneys are prepared fresh or are cooked: In a cilantro-mint chutney, the ingredients are pounded raw, but a tomato or squash chutney must have its main ingredient cooked before pounding. My aunt likes to say that if you follow this template, you can make chutney even out of grass.
Chutneys have enriched the Indian street food landscape and are consumed either as a snappy component of a meal or as a sidekick to street food. My friends from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh - the southern Indian states that convert anything and everything into a chutney - rave about steamed white rice topped with ghee and mixed with tangy, hot gongura pachadi (sorrel chutney).
Like maple syrup to pancakes, chutneys complement the dishes they're served with: coconut chutney for dosas or green chutney for samosas. And though chutney often plays a supporting sole - an acidic contrast to pakoras or vadas, or a wet accompaniment to idlis and dosas - without it, Indian street food is unimaginable.
PARSLEY BURNT LEMON CHUTNEY
MAKES: 6 servings (makes 3/4 cup)
ACTIVE TIME: 10 minutes | Total time: 30 minutes
This chutney is a rich, creamy, thick, herby blend seasoned with loads of garlic and savory lemon pulp resulting from searing the lemon. Try slathering it on French bread and topping with slices of boiled potatoes and green olives for an open-face sandwich.
Storage Notes: The chutney can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Where to Buy: Fresh Thai chiles can be found at Asian markets.
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
• 1/2 lemon
• 1 fresh red Thai chile pepper (may substitute 1 serrano or jalapeĆ±o chile pepper), stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
• 8 large cloves garlic
• 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
• 1/2 cup (2 3/4 ounces) pepitas
• 1/4 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
• Water, as needed
To a medium skillet, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and place the lemon, cut side down, in the oil. Scatter the chile and garlic around the lemon. Set the heat to medium and sear the lemon, without moving, while stirring the chile and garlic often to prevent burning, until the lemon starts to blacken on the bottom, about 10 minutes; the chile will have turned pale green with brown patches, and the garlic will start to shrivel and darken. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes.
Once the lemon has cooled to the touch, squeeze and scoop out all the pulp into a bowl. Some of the juice will have thickened and combined with the pulp; discard the lemon rind.
Transfer the garlic-chile mixture and the lemon pulp to the pitcher of a blender, and add the parsley, pepitas, the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and the salt. Blend the mixture until ground to a fine paste. If the ingredients are too thick to begin blending, add a little water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to facilitate. Transfer to a lidded container and use right away, or refrigerate until needed.
Nutrition information per serving (2 tablespoons) | Calories: 115; Total Fat: 10 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 107 mg; Carbohydrates: 4 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 4 g
LETTUCE AND JALAPENO CHUTNEY
RED BELL PEPPER CHUTNEY 10 minutes
MAKES: 8 servings; makes about 1 cup
This fresh chutney of lettuce and peppers delivers a refreshing spiciness. The iceberg lettuce in this chutney acts as a thickener and homogenizing agent that brings creaminess and also tempers the heat and spice of the peppers and garlic. It's a tasty way to use any shriveling iceberg lettuce lingering in the crisper.
Try this chutney on a warmed-up lavash. Spread the bread with an optional bottom layer of cream cheese, and then add the greens of your choice and avocado slices, and roll tight for a wrap.
Storage: The chutney can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
• 2 cups (about 4 ounces) chopped iceberg lettuce leaves, rinsed and thoroughly dried
• 4 jalapenos roughly chopped, stemmed and seeded
• 4 cloves garlic, peeled
• 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt, plus more to taste
In the pitcher of a blender, add the lettuce and pulse one or two times until slightly chopped and releasing a bit of water. Add the jalapenos, garlic, lemon juice, cumin and salt and blend until smooth. Taste, and add more salt if needed. (If the finished chutney is too watery, transfer it to a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl and let to drain for 2 to 3 minutes.)
Transfer to a lidded container and use right away, or refrigerate until needed.
Nutrition information per serving (2 tablespoons) | Calories: 7; Total Fat: 0 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 149 mg; Carbohydrates: 2 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 0 g
RED BELL PEPPER CHUTNEY
RED BELL PEPPER CHUTNEYActive time: 20 minutes; Total time: 40 minutes
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings (makes about 1/2 cup)
This chutney is a glitzy blend of sweet, hot and sour with a deep-red color to boot. Spoon it on top of meats or turn it into a sandwich spread by mixing 2 tablespoons of chutney with 1 tablespoon sour cream and 1 tablespoon cream cheese. Use vegan versions of the dairy, such as coconut cream, if you desire.
Storage Notes: The chutney can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Where to Buy: Tamarind paste can be found at Indian or Asian markets or online.
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 large red bell peppers (about 9 1/2 ounces total), seeded and diced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
• 3 dried red chiles, such a chile de arbol, stemmed
• 1/2 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
• 1/4 teaspoon tamarind paste
• Water, as needed
In a large, heavy skillet set over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the bell peppers and chiles and cook, stirring, until the bell peppers shrivel and the chiles darken, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
Transfer the mixture to the pitcher of a blender, add the salt and tamarind paste and process until smooth. If the ingredients are too thick to begin blending, add a little water, 1 or 2 teaspoons at a time, to facilitate. Transfer to a lidded container and use right away, or refrigerate until needed.
Nutrition information per serving (1 1/4 tablespoons), based on 6 | Calories: 58; Total Fat: 5g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 201mg; Carbohydrates: 3g; Dietary Fiber: 1g; Sugar: 2g; Protein: 1g
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