We are a nation of condiment lovers—there’s no denying it. Heinz Ketchup alone sells 450 million bottles annually. Grey Poupon sells over 13 million. Pickles … don’t even get me started on pickles. Why do we love condiments so much? It’s partially tradition, but it also has a lot to do with flavor and with health.
Condiments, especially when fermented, add vitamin C and other nutrients to our meals. But let’s be honest, in these days of seasonal eating, farmers’ markets and boutique grocery stores—not to mention worldwide fermentation enthusiasm—we could get a little more interesting with our condiment selection, could we not? I mean, what else are you doing with all those hot peppers in your garden or CSA basket? I contest you try making chutney.
What Is Chutney?
Chutney is a condiment that dates back to 500 B.C. and is derived from the Hindi word for lick. Sometimes written as “chatni” or “chatney,” it’s become a catchall for a mixture of sweet and savory side dishes and garnishes. In the U.S., we tend to think of chutneys almost like savory marmalades, with perhaps a bit more spice, but chutneys can also be dried, fermented or cooked, and in flavors that range from savory to spicy to herbaceous.
By understanding all the different chutney possibilities, you can look around your kitchen, garden, CSA basket or farmers market, and find some interesting flavors to start making your own. Like soup, a good chutney takes just a little common sense, some patience and a mild sense of adventure. Or a spicy one.
The same rules apply to fermenting chutneys that apply to fermenting anything, but you should take into consideration that with more fruit will come more bubbling. This is primarily due to the higher sugar content of fruit, which many yeasts and bacteria go bananas for.
Dice your ingredients into a size comparable to relish—you might even want to mince them. Toss that mixture with at least 1 tablespoon of salt per quart, though more is fine. Pack the ingredients tightly into a jar or crock, leaving at least 1 inch headspace between the top of the liquid and the top of the container. If needed to keep the vegetables submerged, top off with remaining liquid from veggies, a little water and salt, or whey (which contains the lactic-acid creating bacteria you want). Set a plate or weight over the ingredients to keep them under the brine. Cover the container with a cloth that’s tightly secured, place the jar on a plate to catch escaping liquid and set it in a cool, dark place, to let it bubble for seven to 10 days. When bubbling subsides, add a lid or pack the chutney into containers and refrigerate or store in cellar temperature.
Pears and apricots make great chutneys, as do cucumbers and gherkins. Add a little onion and hot pepper, as well—think sweet and spicy. Peanuts have been known to pickle nicely. Also, many herbs and spices, like cilantro, coriander, juniper or mint can all be added for depth of flavor. And garlic—well, garlic is a no-brainer.
Use Your Chutney
Fermented chutneys pair great with grilled fish or meat or stirred into soups and sauces. Use them anywhere you might want to add a little tang.
It’s is hard denying our love of sweet-and-spicy flavors: think barbecue sauce, hot pickles and spicy cocoa. So why not translate these flavor desires into a delicious preserved chutney? Find ingredients that sound good together. Add some sugar, a little bit of vinegar and some water, and cook it down into a jam that can be canned for future grill outs or just for snacks. The easiest way to experiment is to find your favorite jam recipe and add some onions, hot peppers and spices to it. A good rule of thumb is if it tastes good going into the jar, it will taste good coming out.
The same general rules apply to canning chutneys as canning anything else. Make sure you cook the ingredients for a minimum of 45 minutes, then submerge your jars in a water bath for a minimum of 15 minutes. The addition of vinegar helps to boost the acidity, thus lowering the risk of contamination. Sugar helps to sweeten the mixture and preserve it. Generally, use both. A little pectin—or fruit with natural pectin—can help thicken or set the chutney. Also, a healthy pinch of salt brings the whole thing together.
Caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and most fruits work well for preserved chutneys. Add black peppercorns or hot peppers for a little kick. If you want a chutney that pairs well with lamb dishes, mint is a go-to ingredient. Think about your favorite flavor complements—they’ll apply to your preserved chutneys, too. For example, if you’re using apples in your base and feel cinnamon would work well, throw it in.
Use Your Chutney
Take preserved chutneys to cookouts or themed parties. Place a little on the table as a condiment, or design a meal around the flavors. You can also spread a little on toast with butter. These types of chutneys also work really well with cheese. South Asian cuisine, like curry or daal, is obviously a good choice for incorporating chutney.
Of the three types of chutney, perhaps dry chutneys are the most unique. They’re also the most easily applied. To make a dry chutney, gather some nuts, garlic, spices, dried peppers, herbs and anything else you think would make a tasty mixture. Smash or blend them together, then add them to a soup, sauce or sprinkled over a bowl of rice.
Peanuts, cumin, roasted and dried lentils, mint, garlic, and dried mushrooms all make superior dry chutneys. Anything that is easily dried and blended will do.
Use Your Chutney
Anywhere a seasoning might usually be applied, a dry chutney can make an appearance. Sprinkle it over soups or sauces, or just stir it into some ghee (clarified butter) or yogurt for a nice side dish or toast spread.