Saturday, March 19, 2011

Chutney: Homey -- and exotic

Chutney (chuht-nee), n. From the East Indian word chatni, this spicy condiment contains fruit, vinegar, sugar, and spices. It can range in texture from chunky to smooth and in degrees of spiciness from mild to hot.

I grew up, as most Indians do, eating chutneys. We never seem to think much about chutneys, do we? At least, I have always taken chutneys for granted. I have eaten since childhood unripe mango and papaya, pineapple, amla (Indian gooseberry), and, of course, tomato chutneys. A chutney is something that Bengalis eat at the end of a meal in small quantities, sometimes merely as a ritual, to give the repast a finishing touch, perhaps just before dessert, if that is served, too.

Over the past several years, though, I have seen the chutney going upscale – some creative chefs from all over the world are using chutney as a garnishing sauce or a special touch for their creations. The humble chutney, if you will, is becoming exotic. It is, in fact, earning its rightful place.

I gave the chutney dignity in my own way this past week by replicating a simple, but classy recipe conceived by my mother and executed by – of all cooks – the housemaid in our Kolkata home a few weeks ago, when I was visiting. The chutney is made from fresh strawberry, which is prohibitively pricey in some parts of India -- for a chutney. (My wife glared at me and called me extravagant during preparation!)

The strawberry chutney, prepared Bengali style, turned out to be delightfully rich in color and velvety in texture, with some chunks thrown in for some bite. Have you eaten strawberry chutney, dear reader? If not, I will show you how to prepare it. Stay tuned for the recipe.