So, chutney! If you're from India, then I'll assume you know what's a chutney. Although, it varies in texture, consistency and ingredients across regions in India, you'll most likely know what's a chutney. But if you're new to this term or you identify chutney with bottled condiments or sauces in a grocery store, then I highly recommend The Great Chutney Mystery on Deepa's blog, Paticheri. It's worth it!
Chutney, what is it like? Raw or cooked?
The word chutney comes from the Hindi word, चटनी, which is derived from चाटना chāṭnā, meaning 'to lick.' But, chāṭnā isn't related to only licking, though literally it is. It can also mean to eat with appetite, meaning 'to relish.' These words give a sense that a chutney has the consistency of a somewhat flowing sauce or a dip in the western food parlance.
This consistency is achieved by grinding raw and fresh or cooked or slightly-cooked ingredients, such as a green herbs chutney (think pesto minus the oil), or cooking ingredients to a texture that resembles a chutney, like a Odia/Bengali tomato-dates chutney. A chutney made by grinding raw ingredients is sometimes seasoned/tempered with spices bloomed in oil like coconut chutneys in south India.
Typically eaten alongside main courses, they may fit the term condiment. Depending on the type of chutney, they can be sufficient as sides for breakfasts and snacks or eaten with rice like dal. Although, they're not of dal's consistency or texture.
Chutneys are also indispensable in Indian street foods like, chaat. Pay attention to the terms, chaat and chutney, the latter being derived from चाटना chāṭnā, meaning 'to lick.' In a chaat, chutneys provide a much-needed flavour boost to the main ingredients with their sweet, sour, tangy and spicy nature.
Fresh or pickled?
Chutneys are typically made fresh. But in the modern world, we do store freshly-made chutneys in the refrigerator to last for a week or two. Preservation through pickling in India produces something known as achar in Hindi, which sometimes people confuse as chutneys. Achars or Indian pickles have longer shelf life than chutneys and don't necessarily need to be stored in the refrigerator.
Dry or wet?
Since chutneys have a connection with 'licking', they're typically thought as wet sauces or dips. But remember, in India, we often eat with our fingers, and traditionally only with fingers. So, licking isn't always literally using the tongue to swipe the plate clean! It also means we use our fingers to take a portion of something from the plate and use our tongue to lick it off our fingers. Now, many will think it grouse. I can't help them! No one can!
So, a chutney can be wet or dry, and still be licked. Dry chutneys are more common in south India, like chammanthi from Kerala. You will also find people referring podi or spice-mixes from south India as chutneys.
The dry or wet nature of the chutney also depends on how much moisture is left in the final product. It can be completely wet, like this cilantro-mint chutney, saucy like gojjus from Karnataka or thokkus which are usually made of sour ingredients and cooked completely to remove moisture or somewhat wet and lightly cooked like thuvaiyals. You will find more varied and distinct terms for these in south India than the rest of the country.
What goes into a chutney?
Anything can go into a chutney! Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, spices, herbs but typically not meat. Meat can be preserved into pickles/achar.
It's the combination and variation of fresh or cooked vegetables, herbs or fruits with spices, nuts and/or seeds that generates a plethora of chutneys in the Indian food repertoire.
My green chutney formula
When we refer hari (green) chutney in India, one tends to think of the most common form of green chutney, coriander and mint chutney. This version is typically used in most chaats in north India as well as common in north Indian households.
However, you needn't limit yourself to coriander and mint to make a green chutney. I must say it's my favourite green chutney but I use any available or sometimes frail greens to make a chutney and save them.
Here's a simple formula that I follow:
Greens - Typically a mix of herbs like coriander, mint, dill, rucola (rocket leaves), basil, parsley or any others which may strike as chutney-able!
Green chilies - For the spice and extra kick, I always add some form of green chilli peppers. Indian chillies may not always be available depending on where you live. You can use Serrano peppers or jalapeños or Thai peppers like Bird eye chilies. Be mindful of how hot the chilies are, and decide accordingly.
Ginger - I never skip it if I'm using coriander, mint or rocket leaves in my green chutney.
Garlic - I feel it works best when using dill, basil or parsley.
Cumin seeds- It's the perfect spice for a bit of earthy flavour in your green chutney. I never skip it when making cilantro and mint based chutneys. Combined with ginger/garlic or both, it adds a lovely spice dimension to the chutney.
Limes - For the much needed sourness, limes are best. Lemons can be a bit sweeter but work as well. Sometimes, tamarind works but then tamarind will also change the green colour of the chutney. So, lime/lemons are best.
Jaggery - I add a tad bit of jaggery or sugar for that hint of sweetness and to bring the flavours together along with salt.Cumin - If using ginger, cumin and ginger make a good combination for the spice factor. At times, I use all three, ginger, garlic and cumin.
Cashews, hemp seeds or oil (optional) - Green chutneys tend to be thinner and a bit runny in texture. Some people prefer the chutneys to be thicker and not have the water separate from the chutney. For this, cashews, hemp seeds or some oil can act as a good binding agent. For cilantro and mint based green chutneys, I usually don't add any except hemp sometimes for its added health benefits. For basil, dill or parsley, I use these to ensure a creamier texture.
Ice cubes or cold water - Unless you live in a big family, it's unlikely to finish a big batch of chutney in a single meal. When stored in the refrigerator, these chutneys tend to loose their colour. Sometimes, the herbs also loose their shine just after being ground. Ice cubes or cold water ensures that the colour isn't lost. However, you needn't add any water if using nuts or oil.
How do you use a green chutney?
It works with anything and I'm not exaggerating! Here are some ideas to serve green chutneys:
As a condiment along with meals
Spread it on breads when making sandwiches. Try cheese and chutney sandwiches — yum!
Spread it on rotis or tortillas and fill up with roasted veggies or meat and make wraps.
Serve with eggs, pakodas (fritters), tikkis (patties), samosas, or any other fried snack.
Coat boiled and chopped potatoes with green chutney and take your potato salad a notch up!
You can never go wrong with a chutney!
This recipe is for a typical North-Indian dhaniya-pudina (cilantro mint) chutney. Check out my formula for any green chutney to variate this recipe.
Cilantro/coriander leaves and mint leaves in 1:2 ratio. I keep bits of stem intact in the cilantro. Stems have a lot of flavour and add to the bulk of the chutney. For 1 cup cilantro and 1/2 cup mint leaves, I add the following ingredients in the following quantities:
1-inch ginger, washed and peeled
1-3 green chilies (The amount of chilies varies depending on how hot the chillies are)
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp jaggery or sugar (optional)
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
5 tbsp water or 1-2 ice cubes
Add all ingredients in a blender jar and grind into a smooth paste. Taste and check salt and sugar, and adjust flavours accordingly.