Chutney. It's a complex ingredient, and I have a complicated relationship with it.
A reader renewed my interest in chutney by recommending the book The River Cottage Preserves Handbook. The reader referred to it as a "pickle cook book". I thought, "Hmmm... I like pickles and since the author puts pickles and chutneys in the same chapter... and I know I can make pickles... maybe I can make chutney too!" So thank you, anonymous reader. You have sent my brain off in a new direction.
Chutney is a great idea because it can be used to add flavor to foods after they're cooked. This is important when feeding children because the kids often want their food "plain" and I want a more complex balance of flavors and ingredients. Chutney allows me to cook foods "plain", but not have to eat them that way.
One reason for my sudden interest in "plain" food is the recent diagnosis of food allergies in a family member. This means I need to stop buying almost ALL prepared foods. And requires some way to add culinary interest to a very limited selection of allergen-free foods. Chutney sounds like a possible solution.
I first discovered chutney when I was in college, working for an eccentric woman who ran a daylight-balanced lightbulb company out of her home office. She was a wealthy older woman who was usually doing laps in her indoor olympic-sized swimming pool when I arrived to help her with her typing and filing. We often ate lunch together before we began our work and she would send me into her airy kitchen to put our plates together from the food that had been prepared by the housekeeper. I usually found a pot of brown rice, a container of chutney, and a plate of roasted meat or vegetables waiting for me. I ate all kinds of chutneys with my part-time employer, and it opened up a new world of flavors to me.
Oddly enough, I was the only person who could stand to work for this woman, who was intolerant of mistakes of any sort. She made rude and unhelpful remarks about my typographical errors -- but she was witty enough that I found her insults funny. And it was easy to overlook her occasional bitchiness because I was always focused on getting a glimpse of the food that awaited me in her kitchen. Once I figured out where she kept the chutney, I would sneak a peek into the cabinet to see what else lingered in her pantry.
But this career phase was short-lived and I lost interest in chutney after I left this job in favor of a full-time gig at the local camera store. In fact, I was only reminded of the existence of chutney when I saw it on a restaurant menu. I usually order any dish I can find that's served with chutney. And it always makes me think of lightbulbs.
The word "chutney" is a Hindi word used to describe a wide variety of thick sauces used in Indian cuisine. For those of you who haven't discovered chutney yet, it is a mixture of fruits or vegetables and spices. It can be either sweet or savory, and it can also be spicy. Most chutneys you can buy in your local grocery store are a by-product of 19th century British Empire builders who "discovered" the world of Indian spices and wanted to take those flavors back to their home country. These chutneys, most notably Major Grey's, are made of fruit, spices, sugar and vinegar. It seems like a good place for me to start with my chutney project since it's where my interest in chutney began.
I'll continue to research chutney and I'll report back on my first experiments in the world of chutney. I'm clearly no expert and I welcome all the ideas and recipes I can get!