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