Across India, you'll find many varieties of chutney. Chutneys provide balance to the foods of Indian cuisine. Some are cooked and others are fresh; often, they are quickly blended in a food processor. Hot chutneys are a counterpoint to creamy curries and stews, while sweeter, fruit-based chutneys are companions to spicier dishes like vindaloo.
Any Indian meal is a chutney occasion. Coconut, tomato, and tamarind chutneys complement the breakfast idli, which are cakes made from rice and lentil batter. Other common varieties are onion, mint, and coriander. Examples of dishes to pair with chutneys include:
- Pakora, chickpea fritters
- Aloo tikki, potato patties
- Paneer tikka, kebobs featuring slabs of paneer cheese sandwiched between vegetables and cooked in a tandoor oven
Actually, chutneys can accompany nearly any dish in the Indian food spectrum, from the simplest to the most complex. They enliven rice and/or breads like roti, naan, chapati, paratha, puri, and others, and act as a foil to the riot of flavors in multi-course meals.
Western varieties of chutney
As chutney made its way to Europe and North America, perhaps because of the close and loving relationship developed between the British and Indian cuisine during colonial rule, it took on a jammy facade. Major Grey's chutney, made with mangoes, raisins, brown sugar, and chili, is typical of this style. It has more of the sweet than the sour.
Western varieties of chutney are almost always cooked, low and slow for sour jams, or quickly for a piquant confiture that resembles traditional cranberry-orange relish served at Thanksgiving. However, the tartness of chutney is what makes it such a tongue-teaser and pleaser. It's also what makes it distinct and different from jam and jelly.
In that traditional cooking lexicon Joy of Cooking (Rombauer, Becker, and Becker, 2006*), chutneys are lumped in with relishes and pickles. They also appear subsequent to relishes in How to Cook Everything (Bittman, 1998) and are generally regarded as a pleasing side to meats, sandwiches, and even cheese.
The afore-mentioned cookbooks have recipes detailing how to make chutneys from fresh and dried fruit. The latter is my favorite way to make chutney. You'll find a good vegetable chutney recipe included in How to Cook Everything.
Types of chutney: The categories
As Indian techniques and flavors have become more mainstream in American kitchens (think last year's blockbuster cookbook, Indian-ish: Recipes and Antics from a Modern American Family (Krishna and Kelley, 2019)), it may make more sense to organize chutneys into three categories: Fruit, vegetable, and herb.
Typical fruit chutneys are the aforementioned mango (Major Grey's with raisins) and dried apricot. Vegetable standards are onion and tomato, while mint and coriander (cilantro) are classic herbaceous varieties.
Every year, I enjoy making an easy, edible homemade gift for friends that is not cookies. Don't get me wrong, I do bake holiday treats, but many of my friends and loved ones already have an ample supply of holiday cookies!
(Another preserve made from pears that would make a perfect holiday gift, is my East Asian Pear Butter. You can find the recipe here, but just so you know, it does take longer to prepare than chutney.)
Chutney has several points in its favor for holiday gifting.
- The spicy sourness of chutney offers a bracing contrast to the holiday goodies in our pantries and out on the countertops.
- As a bonus to chutney's delicious flavor, nutrition upsides include vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. When made from dried fruit, it has a gram of iron per tablespoon. This may not sound like much, but it's more than 10% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for an adult man.
- Best of all, the condiment can take a ho-hum chicken breast or pork roast from dull to dazzling.
- Don't want to cook? Serve your chutney with a platter of cheeses. Fruit chutney is an ambrosial addition to a cracker loaded with Irish cheddar. Dried fig chutney is scrumptious with soft cheeses like Brie or Camembert. Tomato chutney is great with cheeses, too! Try it on grilled cheese sandwiches!
- You don't have to finish it during the holiday season. It keeps well for a couple of months in the refrigerator without any special treatment other than clean jars. (You could sterilize them in the instant pot. It only takes one minute.) If you go to the trouble of canning, the chutney should keep unopened in the pantry for 18-24 months.
(To use the instant pot for sterilizing jars, place the trivet in the bottom of the pot. Pour in a cup of water. Place your clean jars -- up to seven 8-oz jars -- in the 6-qt pot. Put the lid on, and close/seal the vent. Set the pressure for 1 minute. Keep the jars in the instant pot until you are ready to fill them.
If you are preserving the chutney by canning, the jars (and the chutney) will need to be hot. Use the steam setting on your instant pot for canning. Read this post from Friedalovesbread.com for an explanation of instant pot canning.)
Fruit chutney varieties: To cook or to purchase
Here is my recipe for a pear-cranberry chutney that is heavy on dried pears. You could also use dried apples or apricots, but if you choose apricots, omit the cranberries.
If you're not sure you want to make your own chutney, you could always try Stonewall Kitchens' Apple Cranberry Chutney, which has a flavor somewhat similar to the recipe below. You can order it, or find it in a specialty grocery store. I can not recommend many of the chutneys available at regular groceries because they tend to be very sweet and lack spice.
Pear Cranberry Holiday Chutney
- medium saucepan
- chef's knives
- cutting boards
- 1 Tablespoon canola oil
- ½ cup onion chopped finely
- 1 teaspoon garlic minced
- 1 cup cranberries fresh
- 2 cups dried pears chopped (can use a combination of dried pears and apples)
- ½ cup water more, if necessary
- ¼ cup orange juice fresh squeezed
- 2 Tablespoons honey
- 1 Tablespoon Truvia granulated stevia + erythritol
- ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 Thai red chilies whole
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 star anise whole
- 6 cloves whole
- 6 black peppercorns whole
- 1 cinnamon stick optional
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- Before starting, wash hands thoroughly.
- Heat canola oil in a medium saucepan until shimmering. Add onion to pan and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook 30 to 60 seconds, until fragrant.
- Combine the dried fruit, cranberries, chilies, star anise, peppercorns, and ginger with the onion and garlic. Mix gently and thoroughly.
- Pour liquid ingredients, honey, Truvia, and orange zest over the onion-fruit-spice mixture. Stir and bring to a boil. (Cranberries should start to pop.) Turn the heat down so that all ingredients are barely simmering. After 10 minutes, taste the chutney and add salt and more honey or Truvia if the mixture is too sour.
- Continue to simmer for another 20 minutes. Watch the pot, and add additional water, ¼ cup at a time, if necessary. Cook until the fruits are softened and the mixture becomes thick and jammy.
- Remove from heat. Pour into sterilized jars and proceed with canning while mixture is hot. Or, let the chutney cool and pour into refrigerator storage containers. If canned, it should keep in pantry storage for 18-24 months. In the refrigerator, it should stay fresh for about two months.
- Serve as a lively foil to roasted or grilled meats. Dried fruit chutney is also very tasty on toasted breads or as a topping for rice.
Copyright © 2020 Jani H. Leuschel