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  The Laughing Chef's Column Archive
January 15, 2007
Feel Your Chutney

I say the word chutney, and expect a certain reaction. If you are expected to eat it, perhaps you might perk up with an, “ooh.” If you are expected to prepare it, you instead recoil in horror, terrified by the exotic-sounding nature of the food. 

Yet, there is far more bark to this dog than there is bite. It is so simple that one is tempted to suggest that it rounds the globe of difficulty and lands in the territory of “highly complex.” Fans of the nonsensical might greet this by perking up and with an, “ooh!” while fans of logic might cringe in horror, but that is simply the way things work. 

There are many ways to prepare it, and with many different kinds of ingredients, providing plenty of room to experiment if, say, your mother hands you a grocery bag full of apples that one day just showed up on her doorstep. 

Peeling and coring several apples is about as difficult as it gets. Commit yourself to several apples’ worth of chutney. After you’ve committed, and peeled and cored, you may relax. You have just completed the most technical task. 

Chop the apples into a pot and add some raisins. If the thought of chutney still intimidates you, here you may take another path by adding water and cinnamon. Boil and mash, and you will have applesauce. However, if you have steeled your nerve, you may press on with vegetables. 

Chop up a small red onion and a couple of small hot peppers and add them. 

Top them off with a couple cloves of minced garlic. 

Have we forgotten something? Yes, we have. Chutney . . .  the word carries a whiff of the exotic to it, and you are confronted by how to add the touch of the exotic. 

Add two teaspoons each of cardamom and ground ginger and one teaspoon of salt.

Sense would tell you that for an exotic blend of ingredients, you will want a cooking medium that is flexible of mind and spirit. 

The light in your head flashes. It is the correct thought – apple cider vinegar. Perhaps another light flashes – won’t the vinegar and the apples promptly make common cause, and tip the scale of balance?

We are not worried about political ramifications here, however. We are worried about chutney. Balance of power here is much less important than balance in flavor. Arrayed under the banner of vegetable, you have red onion and hot pepper. Marching under the banner of fruit, you have the apple and the raisin. Garlic stands to the side with cardamom and ground ginger, neutral observers you can suspect of vegetable sympathies. Cider vinegar balances the playing field. 

How much to add? As with all things, do not look to others for specifics, for they would seek to micromanage your cooking from afar. Here, we must yield to what the chefs of old referred to as, “That should just about do it.” Feel your chutney. Be your chutney. 

You will want to bring your chutney to a boil, which will then begin the process of turning it from an arrangement of fruit, vegetables and spices into something that you can use in everyday life, or pawn off as classy (yet inexpensive) gifts. 

With heat, your ingredients will turn to mush together, and their flavors will flow, mix and become something that is sweet at first but turns to hot. It will go well with roasted poultry. It will go well with certain cheeses. It will go well with other things that by themselves have a mildly bland flavor and texture, for the chutney will be strong in its own right. 

The boiling process takes from one to two hours. Toward the end, when it begins to thicken, you will want to reduce the heat and stir more often. 

If you have connected with your chutney, you will know when you are finished. If you are able to feel what the chutney feels, you will know – as a salmon knows when it is time to spawn – when it is time to remove it from the heat. You will hear, in your mind, the sound of the chutney calling your name, as if it cries out to you on a warm South Pacific breeze. Heed the call. 

It is said that chutney gets better as it sits around. Again, if you are attuned to your chutney, the answer will come – to store in jars, freeze in bags or promptly apply to roasted poultry? 

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