Flavour-packed condiments from India, the home of chutney

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Posted on: 23 November 2015 by Katherine Morgan

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What is chutney? If the name reminds you of the chunky brown stuff you eat with cheese and biscuits, you need to think further afield. Almost 5,000 miles further afield to be precise: the Indian culinary tradition of delicious chatni or chutney features a colourful, piquant and delicious condiment to suit every meal.

Chutneys with pappadums

The first chutneys you are likely to encounter in a fine Indian restaurant will be pickles to accompany your pappadums. A sweet mango chutney, made from simmering the pulp and juice of fresh succulent mangoes with ginger, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, a pinch of raw sugar cane and a hint of chilli.

You may also eat a powerful lime pickle with your crispy pappadums. This is made from chopped up limes marinated with turmeric, fenugreek, ginger, garlic, sugar and chillies. A spicy tempering oil made from sizzling mustard seeds, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds and dried red chillies is poured over the limes, then jars are filled with the aromatic mixture and left to steep for at least three weeks. The result is a zingy, zesty treat.

Dipping chutneys

Chutneys do not have to be thick and served from jars. Many Indian snacks such as samosas and pakoras benefit from a cooling mint chutney to balance their spicy heat. One of the simplest and most appealing is mint chutney. Mint, coriander and green chillies are blended with lemon juice, ginger and a little salt and sugar. The runny chutney is served in a bowl ready for dipping all kinds of delicious snacks.

In South India many dishes are served with a creamy coconut chutney. This gooey white chutney is also an essential part of South Indian specialities such as dosas and idli. Again, it is simple but radically appetising: fresh coconut flesh is blended with roasted lentils or chickpeas, a few spoonfuls of yogurt, a little green chilli and some fresh ginger root. A temper of mustard seed, red chillies and curry leaves roasted in oil is added to develop the flavour. The result is an indulgent and fragrant delight.

Tamarind and date chutney is one of those flavours you have once and never forget. The sweetness of the dates and the sourness of the tamarind combines beautifully. Tamarind pods and shiny dates are simmered in water with a little jaggery, a treacly Indian sugar source. Roasted cumin powder, coriander, ginger and red chilli is added in small amounts to add extra zing. The thick, rich brown chutney is then cooled and strained.

Thick chutney

The beauty of chutney is that it can be made from almost anything. Take onion and tomato chutney, for example. Tangy tomatoes and juicy onions are simmered until they break down into a thick paste with a little chilli powder. Roasted mustard seeds, lentils and curry leaves are added to the mix, which is then left to cool.

Some chutneys have a real kick. Lasunki chutney is made by blending 30 garlic cloves with a very generous amount of ground red chillies, coriander powder and cumin seeds. The thick fibrous paste is ridiculously moreish, if you can handle the spice!

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Katherine Morgan

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