Monthly Archives: February 2011

saving the world one chutney at a time

Some of you are going to have immediate questions based on the title of this post, the most obvious one being: “I’ve always assumed chutney is just another word for salsa.  And what the hell is the deal with compote, anyway?”

Yes.  Well, that’s really more of a comment, isn’t it?   I can’t waste all day on you people and your comments so cleverly disguised as questions.  So let’s move on, shall we?

Once upon a time in India, someone somewhere developed chutney.  They called it chatni.  And it was good. 

Or maybe not so much, and so additional time and effort and resources had to be expended in order to make it good.  Everybody got to brainstorming and figured out, for example, that you could leave the condiment to cook under in the sun for days until the proper flavor had developed.  At that point, the wealthier folks began serving chatnis as condiments at weddings and other special occasions. (And by the time the wealthy people got their hands on it, it must have been good.  Wealthy people have taste, as has been proven time and time again by the likes of, say Paris Hilton.)

Skipping shamelessly over the politics here, eventually the British popped over to India, added sugar and preserving agents to the salty, peppery relishes they found there – these “chutneys” – and began shipping them over the Europe as luxury goods.  In the 1600s, European cookbooks began to include recipes for the condiments which were known as “mangoed” fruits and vegetables, even though European cooks substituted more accessible fruits like peaches and melons.  With the development of canning technologies, chutneys have since become affordable and can be commonly found in Indian and western households alike, if you’re the type to go through cabinets during parties.  Which I am not.  So take my word or leave it.  Go do your own research in other people’s cupboards. 

Mainly what I’ve learned through my research is that chutney has a much more complicated backstory than I could ever be expected to muster energy enough to untangle.  Same with that last sentence. Suffice to say, chutney has passed the test of time, unlike the mixes of things from the back of fridge that I come up with on those weekends between paychecks.

The magic of chutney is that you can make it with any fresh ingredients you have on hand, so that chutneys from different places reflect the flavors of those places. Mangoes, peaches, tomatoes, pineapples, tamarind, apricots, eggplants, onions, raisins.  Chop up or simmer down your fruits and vegetables; add an acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice, and flavorings like garlic, ginger, sugar, coriander, peanuts, coconut, honey, mint, or chiles; and voila

In India, chutney refers to a condiment or relish that is served with nearly every meal.  Indian chutneys have historically been fresh, uncooked relishes made with seasonally available fruits, spices, and herbs. They were meant to be consumed right away, but they can also be pastes or dry powdered mixtures* that can be stored for months in the cabinet. But so far my practical experience is limited to the English-ified versions – those sweetly spicy, fragrant chutneys made by cooking fruit, sugar, and vinegar down into a sweet, chunky sauce that is less like a salsa and more like a particularly complex apple pie filling. 

The recipe below is for one of these types – a cinnamon-and-cayenne-scented chutney with dried apricots and plums plumped up alongside fresh ginger and tart apple that will pair with pretty much anything.  Grilled chicken, spicy sausage, roasted pork, cheese and crackers.  Anything blackened. Turkey sandwiches.  Hot dogs.  Marinated tofu.  Curried things.  I’m assuming bacon.  

I’d like to assuage everybody’s fears re the salsa/compote issue, but the following chutney is about the perfect way to spice up a cold winter day, particularly if your access to brandy is limited, and it’s clearly going to take me some time and way better resources than random folks on the internet to work out what’s what in the vast world of chutneys, salsas, and compotes.  So no more thinking.  We’ve really got to get on with the posting of the recipe.


I made the following chutney last weekend. I made one mistake: I cooked it at the last minute and served it hot. It was okay.  But let this chutney sit for a day or two in the fridge, and its complexity increases significantly. The spicy cinnamon flavor is enhanced by this time in the fridge, and the whole thing develops a wonderful, sticky, jammy consistency.

Chutney with Dried Apricots and Plums 

Altered slightly from the recipe found here .

Makes 2 cups

3/4 cup quartered pitted prunes
3/4 cup quartered dried apricots
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green apple, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium tomato, seeded and roughly chopped* (or 1/2 cup diced canned tomatoes)
Very scant 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cider vinegar

Directions:
1 Place prunes and apricots in saucepan; add 1 cup/250 mL water and bring to boil.
2 Remove from heat; cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
3 Stir in onion, apple, tomatoes, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, black and cayenne peppers, salt and vinegar; bring to simmer.
4 Cover and simmer on low, stirring occasionally, until thickened to jamlike consistency, about 2 hours.
5 Remove from heat.
*To peel tomatoes, prepare a bowl of ice water. Cut a shallow X into the bottom of each tomato, slicing only through the skin. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and submerge tomatoes for approximately 20 to 30 seconds. Remove from boiling water with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into ice water. Peel tomatoes with fingers starting from the X.

Postcript: I wonder if you could make a reasonable chutney using prickly pear fruit. You could call it Sonoran Spring chutney. Although in Tucson, I guess they really would just wind up calling it a salsa, vinegar be damned.  I think I’ve uncovered my next project.

* How to cook a dry bitter melon chutney.

if it’s worth doing, it may well be chutney

I have been writing a certain post since February 3.  Two weeks of writing and rewriting.  Adding and then deleting bits of text that after a few days seem so extraneous or inane as to be too embarassing to allow other people to know were originally floating around in my brain. 

That’s kind of how the birthing process went for this blog, too.  Weeks of agony.  At least two months of suffering.  How can I be interesting and funny when it comes to food?  Can anyone?  Really?  Should I just post recipes?  That’s safe.  Can I really write about food that has its origins in other countries?  What do I know about those things?  Can I even find Sweden on a map?!   Who do I think I am, anyway?! Should I scrap the whole idea?  What if I’m repeatedly wrong about everything?  EVERYTHING?!? 

The funny thing is, this post I’ve been trying to write is about chutney.  And, really, how complicated is chutney?  Not very, as you will shortly ascertain.  A friend recently pointed something out to me:  I don’t actually have to be an expert on chutney to write something about it.  If I’m wrong or ill-informed or wrong or inadvertently culturally insensitive or just plain wrong on every count, my hope is that someone who knows more about the subject than I do will offer some direction.  Also, my friend Charity points out, I can always revisit the topic, which I have always assumed I will do with many of these topics anyway.  The topic of chutney alone could be its own blog.  And probably is.  This thing my friend has pointed out is not just the case for posting what I consider to be a prematurely truncated discussion of chutney, but really something I should try to remember every day of my life.

Charity writes a very thoughtful and insightful blog, by the way, called Imperfect Happiness.  and I’m pleased to shamelessly plug it here.  She wrote something once in her blog that has stuck with me:  “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.” 

And, by god, doesn’t that make sense?  I’m postponing a post on chutney because I feel like I can’t possibly do it justice.  Chutney!  We’re not talking about my opinion on the protesting in Egypt here!  We’re not talking about World Peace!  Yet I feel strongly that chutney is worth thinking about and learning about and  making and eating and sharing.  Doesn’t that make a post on it worthwhile?  Maybe my historical facts will be inaccurate –  I wouldn’t cite me in any term papers at this point.  But if one person makes the recipe I intend to post and enjoys it and finds that it spices up a dreary winter day just a little, then doesn’t the horror of my inadvertently irresponsible historical inaccuracies somehow fade a little?  Just a little?   

The thing is, I’m still finding a direction for myself with this blog so you might as well be in on the journey with me.  I haven’t found my voice here yet. I haven’t worked out everything I want it to be, but nevertheless, I keep finding that I do want it to be.  I’m a student here, but then, from the beginning, I intended to be a student, not a teacher.  Or, rather, if I can be a teacher at times, I’ll take it, but it will be incidental. 

I guess if the only way to do it is to do it poorly, than I want to do it poorly. 

And I do, in fact, believe chutney could be an avenue to World Peace.  That’s why I’m doing this.

luv you!

NECCO (New England Confectionary Company) has been making candy for more than 160 years and first began printing on candies back in the 1860s. Everybody’s favorite little heart candies with their adorable and efficient expressions of love were first created in 1902. And NECCO wants our ideas because we’re brilliant! So, why don’t you do a little Valentine’s Day champagne-inspired brainstorming, and then A.) tell us your ideas in a comment because we hate to be left out of a loop, and B.) go to NECCO’s website to suggest new phrases for Valentine’s Day 2012!