Chutney is an Indian invention. The word chutney is the anglicized spelling and pronunciation of chatni, from the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. Chatni, a noun, comes from the verb chatna, which means “to taste” or “to lick”. Ranging from burning hot to mild, chutneys are always assertively flavored, often with a complex, sweet and sour taste, to compliment the spicy dishes typical of Indian cuisine. Spices are not important for flavor alone; they serve as preservatives that allow the chutney to keep for several months in the refrigerator without any seal. (If properly prepared and placed in sterilized jars, chutneys can be kept in your cupboard for a year. Once opened, they must be refrigerated.)
The amount of heat has long been the subject of debate between Indians, who appreciate a little fire, and more timid foreigners. Jennifer Brennan, in her memoir of the British Raj in India titled Curries and Bugles, offers the following excerpt from the anonymous writer of an old volume called All About Indian Chutneys, Pickles and Preserves : “To suit the taste of Europeans, the amount of heating ingredients employed may be lessened to a considerable extent. Indeed, the proportion seems very capricious, and we believe that if the amount of chillies and ginger were reduced to a quarter of the quantity indicated, the chutney would prove more agreeable to a European palate…..” That was then, this is now; more hotter, more better.
Chutneys are best made when fruits and vegetables are in season and at their peak of flavor. In general, they can be grouped into two categories; soupy like a dip or chunky like a relish. The difference between a chutney and a pickle is simply that a pickle contains no sweet ingredients, such as sugar or raisins. In addition, chutney ingredients are often minced or pounded, while pickle ingredients are left whole or in large pieces. While chutney making traditionally is a labor intensive undertaking, Julie Sahni, author of the remarkable cookbook Moghul Microwave, notes that “in the microwave, preparing chutney means combining the ingredients and cooking them until the fruit just ‘gives’, or softens. It is a one-step process and could not be easier.”
Because they contain expensive ingredients, chutneys, particularly those made with fruit, may be reserved for special occasions, like wedding banquets, in India. They are used as condiments, appetizer dips or, if substantial, as side dishes or salads. Julie suggests that they “ are so visually appealing that it would be lovely to present several of them, as is done in the Indian tradition, on a lazy Susan or carousel to accompany various dishes.”
|MAJOR GREY’S CHUTNEY|
|PERSIMMON KI CHATNI|
|SHERNAZ’S CORIANDER CHUTNEY|