Sunday, February 26, 2012

The wonderful world of fresh chutney

I have been cooking lately, a lot, even for me, all Indian food all the time, which I hope my neighbors in my building appreciate as much as I do.  To be honest, I've probably tested their patience enough, though as of yet no one has slipped a note under my door telling me so...Indian spices are coming out of my pores when I exercise so they're most likely making their way down the common hallway as well.

But I can't stop.  These are not 30-minute meals; they're 3-hour experimental extravaganzas, difficult to blog because everything is so very new and fun that there's nothing in particular I can get a proper focus on.

Also, I've had trouble, which sounds sort of peculiar, arranging the food properly on a plate.  Normally, as you know, I let everything duke it out in a bowl, but that doesn't cut it with Indian meals because not all the items are friends with all the others, and the way you eat these meals is complex in itself, arranging little tasty mouthfuls of this and that, or this, that, and the other thing, spooning a bit of saucy curry over rice, dipping up some raita with a piece of flatbread, following a bite of something fiery hot with a cooling chaser.  In the end, I've settled on a sort of thali arrangement, like you might get in an Indian restaurant, with the different foods separated in bowls on a large round plate.  There are actual thali plates, big round metal plates with shallow indentations to keep the various foods separate, but I don't have one.  I do, however, have a lot of little bowls.

So yesterday it snowed all day, our first real snowstorm of this extraordinarily mild winter, and since I couldn't get out without making some kind of extraordinary effort, and since I'd just been to Chinatown on Friday with my friend Fi, where I found big fresh bundles of methi leaves and curry leaves and some gorgeous little bowls...okay, I found three large grocery bags of stuff but then I don't get to Chinatown all that often...anyway, I decided to make an afternoon of it and experiment with a few chutneys.

My guide on this journey has been Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes.  This is a perfect book for Western cooks with intermediate Indian cooking skills, like me.  Apart from being big and heavy and of many pages, with recipes that are easy to follow and always work out, lots of definitions and explanations of basic techniques, and being very kind about giving the English as well as the Indian names for things (split pigeon peas and toor dal; fenugreek leaves and methi), it's an omni cookbook, but vegan friendly: all the vegan recipes are marked with a big "V" and you've got to love a cookbook where the meat recipes are consigned to a section called "Non-Vegetarian Fare."

In my family, we grew up making rhubarb chutney, green tomato chutney, fruit chili--boiled, jam-like concoctions, very sweet, that will keep in a sealed jar for ages.  But in Indian cooking, there are two main types of chutney--that "jammy" kind, called preserved chutney, and fresh chutney, which won't keep longer than a few days in the fridge and is more like a salsa.  This post is about the fresh kind, of which I made:

1.  Basic green chutney (Hari chutney)

I don't want to infringe on Ms. Batra's copyright, but here's Manjula's version.  Get together your green onions, cilantro, mint (frozen in this case), lime juice, green chilis, and sugar and process to a paste:

Add salt and pepper to taste.  You're done.  Easy peasy:

2.  Roasted dal and fresh green chile pepper chutney (Bhel-puri ki chutni)

Bhel-puri is a kind of Indian snack made with potatoes and puffed rice, and is served with many kinds of chutneys, including this one.  You can check out the recipe if you like on Google Books.  It's like the basic green chutney, but with split chickpeas (channa dal) added.  Start by roasting your washed dal:

Pan is lined with the remainder of a spice mix; I though it couldn't hurt...
While it's roasting, gather together your fresh ingredients and grind them up into a paste:

Once the dal is roasted:

...let it cool, then powderize it up in a spice grinder (I use the Magic Bullet):

Mix the dal with the green paste, add salt to taste:


3.  Roasted coconut chutney (Bhunae nariyal ki chutni)

Here's a version from Mamta's Kitchen.  A really pretty start: 

Lightly roast all this stuff together, until it turns into this:

Pretty, isn't it!
...while you bake your dessicated coconut in the oven on low heat until it's golden.  The smell from this is simply amazing:

Grind up the coconut.  Mine turned into a sort of delicious roast-coconut butter.  Not sure if that's right, but it's what happened and the results were yummy, so I won't complain:

This chutney is a little more complex.  You finish it off with a tarka of oil, mustard seeds, dried hot peppers...

...curry leaves and asafoetida:

Add the ground spice mix to the ground coconut along with some tamarind paste and the tarka: get the finished chutney:

This looks a little dull, perhaps, but it is packed with flavour, and I ate way too much of it just as is.

4.  One more, a dal-based chutney this time, which is meant to be stirred into yogurt, Yogurt chutney with roasted dals and spices (Dahi aur bhuni dal ki chutni).  Start with some dry split chickpeas, urad beans, and mung beans (channa dal, urad dal, and moong dal):

Dry roast them:

The rest is all tarka.  Start with black mustard seeds and dried chilis:

Add curry leaves, dried coconut, chopped ginger and fresh chili, and asafoetida:

I should have used a bigger pan

Roast it some more:

Now separately grind up the dals in a spice grinder, add cilantro to the spice mix, and grind that all up too, and mix everything together: that you've got all these chutneys, how to use them?

First, you can make big batches and freeze them in little portions, in an ice cube tray, for instance, so you don't have to go through all this trouble more often than occasionally.  I made little batches because I was experimenting.

The chutneys can all be served plain as a condiment, perhaps with a bit of water added to make them softer.

They can be mixed up with yogurt, or yogurt and cold vegetables like cucumber and/or tomato, to make another kind of chutney, or a raita, or with warm vegetables to make a side dish.

Spread them into a sandwich.

Use them as a dip or salad dressing.

Mix them up with cooked rice for flavoring.

Pour them (with or without yogurt) over cooked vegetables.

Have them with yogurt and bread as a quick little meal or snack.

Use them for adding a burst of flavour to soups and stews.

Don't forget to label them!

Here's something I made up, though I'm sure it's not original.  I mixed some fresh sesame-peanut chutney with a little water and two tablespoons of chickpea flour to make a paste:

...then stuffed some little Indian eggplants with it:

...and fried them on low heat, covered, until the eggplants were tender and the chickpea flour was cooked through:

So good!'s still snowing.  I wonder what I'll get up to today?  I did pick up some amaranth leaves in Chinatown...


  1. Zoa, your posts always leave me feeling rather speechless with wonder. I'd love to be perched on a stool in your kitchen breathing the fragrant air, then chopping things when asked. The basic green chutney reminds me a little of green onion salsa. The roasted coconut gives me ideas for baking. I can almost smell the spices toasting and the chutneys simmering. I'd love to live in your building.

    1. We'd have fun for sure! And I have to admit, I adore the smell of Indian cooking, mine or others'.

      That green onion salsa from *Viva Vegan* really can't be beat, and you could serve it with any Indian meal...the hari chutni is stronger tasting and you can't down as much of it, but, diluted with yogurt or put into a stew, etc., it's wonderful.

  2. Whao! Those all look so good. I really like the way you are using the peppers. Very nice.

    1. Thanks, Vic. Peppers are so darn beautiful, aren't they?

  3. Oof, this all looks unbelievable. And as stunning as yr photos are, you write well and descriptively about it all to boot. If you don't mind my asking, of what national extraction are you? Where did you learn to cook such food?
    The coconut chutney and the green hari chutney sound especially appealing. And those little stuffed eggplants! I'm surprised yr neighbors haven't knocked on the door asking for an invitation to dinner...

  4. Thank you, Maud! Although it may seem from my photo that my parents were mere aphids, I am in fact fifth generation Canadian, and before that, an Irish/English mix. So I have no national cuisine of my own apart from saskatoon berry pie, butter tarts, nanaimo bars, and poutine. As to where I learned, it's ongoing. I learn from books, from talking to people, from the Internet (from you, for example ;-), just by buying stuff at the grocery store, taking it home, and doing experiments on it. Also, having this blog is a great motivator...

  5. I think I can almost smell those lovely aromas wafting down from Edmonton! Your neighbors are likely enjoying all the wonderful cooking smells! It's all so beautiful! Good chutneys are a work of art. You've got some really interesting ones going on here.

    1. I think good chutneys really are a work of art--really, though, here I'm mostly following recipes, but there are so many in the book I was using, now and then I get addled and mix different ingredients from two of them together...the result still seems to be pretty good! In any case, these are certainly very different from the sorts of bottled chutneys and sauce-type things one buys in stores.

      P.S., Why don't all of you come and live in my building? We could have potlucks and a communal garden and generally create a pleasant little vegan's chilly some of the time, true, but then the warm summer days are very, very long...

  6. Oooh, like the idea of vegan mini community/culture. We could go around from house to house sort of like vegan meal trick-or-treating!! The idea of a community garden is very appealing. Believe me, if I could move to Canada, I'd be there, like yesterday.

  7. Oh hey, we had a snowstorm this weekend too, but I can hardly complain about it since the winter's been so nice! Also your adventures in chutney-making are inspiring - I rarely stray beyond the mango variety. Looks like you've been having tons of fun in the kitchen!

  8. Wow - what a world of chutneys! That roasted coconut one looks phenomenal. I am too lazy to make so many condiments, but I love your idea to freeze them. I probably should do it because we eat so much Indian anyhow. :) No snow in Toronto... but I am not really that jealous, to be honest. ;)

  9. Wow, you guys got a nice bit more snow then we got in Calgary. I love spending the day cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. All of your chutneys sound delicious, although I have to admit, I never really knew what to do with them be besides for samosa dipping. You’ve really got me craving Indian now, especially with all your wonderful descriptions. I’m always iffy about buying random spices, vegetables, etc. that I’m not familiar with, this has been a real inspiration for me to be more spontaneous with food.