Green tomato chutney, and the Talented Mr. Late Blight

Green tomato chutney

Green tomato chutney

If you read my last post, you know that I am trying to rescue my harvest of green tomatoes. I made salsa verde out of some of them, but the question naturally arises—how much salsa verde can one family reasonably eat? The answer is—not much. So on we go to other ideas.

Late Blight

But first, I threw out in my last post that my crop was threatening to be swallowed up by late blight. I did not know this at the time, but my tomatoes were brushing up against history. This is the same disease that once struck potatoes in Ireland, in 1845 precisely, and loosed famine upon the land. The cause of the disease is a pathogen known as water mold. An unassuming name, but it hides some points of interest, as Sherlock Holmes might say. You know the game that kids play where the first question asked is: “animal, vegetable or mineral?” Well, a similar first question to ask about lifeforms is: is it an animal, or a plant? Or a fungus (like mushrooms and yeast), or perhaps a bacteria? So which of these is the water mold?

Neither, it turns out. It is not an animal, nor a plant, nor a bacteria, and not, also, a fungus, though it superficially resembles one. Its is in fact from a separate kingdom of life entirely, known as the oomycetes.

Regardless of its pedigree, it has killer intent when it is found on tomatoes. First brown spots appear on leaves, and they dry and fall. The fruit remains relatively untouched pretty late in the game, which is why I was able to rescue most of them. But eventually greasy dark spots appear on the stem side first, and soon the entire tomato is covered with it. San Francisco’s coolness and fog is quite congenial to Late Blight, so much to my regret, this foe might always be dogging my heels.

Tomato chutney

You know that a foreign vegetable has been completely accepted into Indian cuisine when it undergoes chutneyfication. By this metric, the tomato has become a quintessential Indian vegetable since the Portuguese brought it over in the 16th century. The number of recipes for tomato chutney is immense. Here, though, is one that draws from Bengali cuisine.

Garlic and chili

Garlic and chili

Pulverised

Pulverised

Spice seeds

Spice seeds

In oil

In oil

Frying spice paste

Frying spice paste

Green tomatoes enter

Green tomatoes enter

Tossed with oil and spices

Tossed with oil and spices

After a while

After a while

Done

Done

Green tomato chutney

Green tomato chutney

Bengali green tomato chutney

Ingredients:
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 4 green serrano chilies
  • 4 cups of sliced green tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup olive or other oil
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
  • 1 teaspoon asafetida
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder (optional)
  • 2 teaspoon salt
Method:

Pulverize the garlic and chili in a mortar and pestle until it is a paste. Heat the oil in a wide, thick-bottomed pan on a medium-high flame. When it shimmers put in the five types of seeds (cumin, mustard, fenugreek, fennel, nigella). When they sizzle and pop, the asafetida and red chili powders. When they foam up, the garlic chili paste. The paste will cook in a few minutes, but make sure it does not burn. Now the rough-chopped tomatoes go in along with the salt. Toss to combine with oil and spice.

Cook on medium-low for a whole hour, turning occasionally and mashing with the back of the spoon. In an hour, it will have dried quite a bit, and the oil will be gleaming through. Mash once again, let it cool, and empty into a jar.


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Salvaging my tomato crop: salsa verde

Green tomatoes

Green tomatoes

Folks, I love my adopted city San Francisco, I really do. I love its hills, its fog, its MUNI and its BART, its rolling jagged windy roads, even its urinaceous sidewalks (with reservations). But really, if there is one thing San Francisco simply cannot pull off, it is ripening a frigging tomato.

And yet, in a textbook example of insanity, I keep growing them year after year, hoping that this will be the year when a perfect storm of global warming and sheer willpower will turn those multitudes of green globes red. Wouldn’t that be nice. But no, San Francisco does not oblige. First, the bush grows wildly, flowers and fruits luxuriantly, and the little berries grow into globes. But they stay green. Even my backyard squirrels sniff at them.

So I have a bush full of green tomatoes, and an impending case of late blight nipping at my heels. If I don’t rescue my green tomatoes now (some with a faint blush on them), I will lose them to the greasy blackness of blight.

So I harvest them, and now I have a basket full of green tomatoes. What do I do with them? So now we come to the fun part. There are certain options. Here is Salsa Verde, in my next post I will explore another one.

Tomatoes, sorted

Tomatoes, sorted

Salsa Verde

California is replete with Latin American culture and food, for which I am very grateful. It is hard to describe the tastiness of pairing earthy rice and beans with these ‘sauces’ or salsas — some cooked, some fresh; some red, some green. One of my favorite ways to dress a Mexican meal is with the triumvirate of guacamole, salsa fresca and salsa verde. The ‘verde’ means green, and usually the color is imparted by the tomatillo, which is a cousin of the tomato, but green tomatoes do just as well.

IMG_5716 IMG_5723 IMG_5726 IMG_5736 IMG_5737 IMG_5744 IMG_5747

Salsa verde

Ingredients:
  • 2-3 cups diced green tomatoes
  • 3 big cloves garlic minced
  • 2-3 green serrano chilies minced
  • 1/2 cup onion cut into small dice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
Method:

Put everything except the cilantro and lime into a pot and bring to a boil. Cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Uncover and check if it looks mostly liquefied, if not, cook for another 5-7 minutes. Mash roughly, add cilantro and lime, cook covered to meld flavors for another 5 minutes.

Serve as a side with chips or any Mexican meal.


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Unpopular ideas collide in Baba Ganoush

Baba Ganoush

Baba Ganoush

My love affair with eggplant continues. Any confirmed eggplant haters would be wise to click away now. This blog has become nothing but a vehicle for eggplant worship — maybe I should rename it ‘The Odd purple vegetable in your Pantry’.

In any case. The other love affair I have is with mashing things. Now the very word ‘mash’ arouses deeply unfashionable images in the foodie mind. Perhaps images of an eater who has lost their teeth or not yet grown any; or of overcooked and limp strands; or perhaps images of hospital trays with their scanty TV dinners.

But it is time for mashes, and their French cousins, the purées, to get some respect. There is no other method that combines flavors as well; and if some fat is added, as it is in this recipe, the mash gets a sheen and a nice mouth feel. If the ingredients that go into a mash marry well, there is no reason to scorn it. Plus, there is the thrill of pulverizing ingredients together — many adults have attested that their early love for cooking came from the thrill of mixing things up just to see what would happen.

Or, you can call it a ‘dip’ and feel fashionable again.

Pampered Father

Now for the pampered father, or, ‘Baba Ganoush‘ in Arabic. Apparently a sultan in some ancient royal harem in the middle east came up with this particular eggplant mash…or perhaps he just enjoyed it very much, the OED is not clear on this point. Somehow, this pampered, coy father achieved culinary fame that reached across the centuries and empires, all the way to food trucks in contemporary San Francisco.

What is this pampered father? Roasted, pureed eggplant, flavored with ground sesame seeds (tahini), olive oil, lemon, and other flavorings. It can be eaten as a snack with pita points, or as a dressing in a felafel sandwich.

There is a certain amount of freedom on what other flavorings to add; and here I have chosen a rather unusual addition — that of roasted red pepper. Not only does it add a subtle sweetness, but also little flecks of red. Plus — eggplant and pepper being nightshade cousins, it is a bit of a family reunion.

Roasting sesame seeds

Roasting sesame seeds

Roasted sesame seeds

Roasted sesame seeds

Ground sesame seeds

Ground sesame seeds

Roasted eggplant and bell pepper

Roasted eggplant and bell pepper

Peeling eggplant

Peeling eggplant

Peeled flesh

Peeled flesh

Pureeing

Pureeing

Done

Done

Baba Ganoush with red bell pepper

Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
  • 1 large globe eggplant
  • 1 red bell pepper (optional)
  • Quarter cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of half to one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Parsley for garnish
Method:

Heat the oven to 450ºF. Rub a bit of oil all over the eggplant and bell pepper and place them on a tray and into the oven. Bake them for half hour to forty-five minutes, turning once or twice during that time. At this point, the vegetables will have completely collapsed and be soft inside.

Meanwhile, heat a small thick-bottomed pan on medium-high heat. Roast the sesame seeds on it, keeping them moving once in a while. Soon an aroma will arise and the color will darken one shade. Turn off the heat. After cooling them for a few minutes, grind them in a clean coffee grinder.

When the eggplant and bell pepper are cool enough to handle, peel them. The skin should come off quite easily due to the baking. Put the flesh, along with the sesame seed powder, salt, olive oil and lemon juice into a food processor and pulse till smooth.

Taste for salt and lemon juice, add parsley for garnish.


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A chutney made from Hibiscus leaves

Hibiscus chutney (gongura pachadi)

Hibiscus chutney (gongura pachadi)

If you are at the market and someone tries to sell you what they call ‘sorrel’ leaves, stop and give them the eye. Because you see, sorrel just means ‘sour’ and it does not tell you what kind of sour leaf this is. A few widely disparate plants all get called by this name, so all you know when someone tries to sell you sorrel, is that it is a plant that produces at least one edible part, and those edible parts produce so much acid that it tastes sour to us.

Hibiscus sabdariffa leaves

Hibiscus sabdariffa leaves

The sorrel that I am talking about today is Hibiscus sabdariffa, with the lovely maple-shaped leaves pictured above. It is known by many other names aside from sorrel. It is commonly known as roselle because of the lovely pinkish-magenta of its stems and flower buds. It is gongura in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India where it is a part of many beloved homey dishes. Meshta when it is grown for jute fiber in the north of India. ‘The flower of Jamaica’ in Mexico where the sepals are steeped into a tea. Such herbal teas, or tisanes, are made all over the tropical world from the sepals of this plant.

(Sepals or the calyx are the petals’ baby sisters — they are the row of sometimes leafy, usually unexciting petal-like things that grow on the outside of the flower, under the petals. Most flowers have them, and children usually render them in green when they draw their cartoon flowers.)

Calyx of roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

Calyx of roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

Hibiscus sabdariffa has gorgeous deep magenta arching sepals. The flower with its pink papery petals is even more beautiful, of course. The same magenta color is found in the edges and the veins of the leaves, making this a particularly attractive plant to grow, to look at, and to buy at the market. It decorated my kitchen for the few days that it sat on the counter after I brought it home. Almost seemed like a pity to mash it down into a grim-looking (but delicious!) chutney.

Gongura Pachadi (Hibiscus chutney)

Let me tell you a bit about this chutney. Made from the leaves, it needs no added souring agent (that would usually help preserve it) because the leaves themselves are very sour. I did not grow up in Andhra Pradesh but in that state, this chutney is almost part of the state religion and woven into daily customs.

Now you might think, leaves, yes, grind them in a blender and you are done. But wait. There is a technique to it. First, you dry them completely on sheets of paper towel. Then they roast a bit, dry. Then they sauté and shrivel in a bit of oil. Then you grind it up. The point is to remove all moisture from the leaves, which will help preserve it better.

The taste is wonderfully sour, a bit metallic (maybe from the iron?), and complex. You can mix it with rice or spread it on a slice of bread, then top it with sliced vegetables, as I did.

Dry-roasting

Dry-roasting in batches

Completely dry

Completely dry

Saute with oil

Saute with oil

Dry-roast spices

Dry-roast spices

All destined for blender

All destined for blender

Blending

Blending

Labeled

Labeled

Hibiscus chutney

Ingredients:
  • Leaves from a big bunch of roselle
  • 1 tablespoon sesame, coconut or other oil + more for blending
  • A tablespoon of sliced shallot or onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Half inch piece of ginger
  • 3 dry red chilies, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • Half teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
Method:

Make sure the leaves are completely dry after rinsing. You can do this by spreading them out on sheets of napkins for an hour or so. Dry-roast the plucked leaves in a flat pan in batches. You do not want them to steam, just quickly dry up and darken as they roast. Once all the leaves are dried and roasted in this manner, return them to the pan with a bit of oil to sauté. Remove them to a plate.

Meanwhile roast the dry spices (mustard, fenugreek, red chili) until darkened. Let them cool a few minutes then give them a whirl in the spice grinder to get a powder. Peel and roughly chop the garlic, ginger and shallot. Throw them into the blender along with the salt, the leaves, and the dry spices. The blender will probably need some liquid to make the blades go; for this, add some more of the oil, rather than allow any water to come near.

Save in a jar and label it so you don’t forget to eat it!


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Global unity through hot sauces

Sambal

Sambal Hebi

The other day I was doing my favorite thing — making a hot sauce, in preparation for doing my other favorite thing — eating a meal with a hot sauce. And I started to think upon the unity of all humanity. While I have been known to have the occasional Deep Thought, I usually need some prodding to produce one. The prodding that produced this particular Deep Thought was the following.

Over the course of the past couple months I had occasion to make a few hot sauces. These were from different cuisines: we made burritos at home, so I made a Mexican hot sauce once; another time, for dosas, I made a tomato chutney; and then the other day, experimenting with Malaysian food, I tried making a chili paste called Sambal Hebi. I seem to be doing the same thing over and over, I thought. With just a couple twists each time to add some local flavor.

Tomato chutney

Tomato chutney

Well, given that they all use dried red chilies for heat, and perhaps some garlic or onions as aromatics, there certainly is commonality. Humans from these three rather disparate regions of the world really do seem to think alike — perhaps we are all the same under the skin?

So here is my global hot sauce template; if you are able to adapt this method to yet another hot sauce from another cuisine I’d love to hear about it.

Step 1: Soak the dried chilies in hot water.

Same for all the hot sauces. Choose a mix of large, not-so-hot dried red chilies, and small, hot dried red chilies, according to your heat tolerance. Bring a cup of water to a boil and soak chilies in it until softened, about 15 minutes. Pull off the stem and remove seeds and ribs if you like. They are ready for the sauce.

Soaking dried red chilies

Soaking dried red chilies

Step 2: Broil the vegetables.

Mexican hot sauce: I used half an onion, 3-4 cloves garlic, 3 tomatoes, halved. South Indian tomato chutney: I used 2 cloves garlic, 3 tomatoes, halved. Malaysian sambal: I used half an onion, 3-4 cloves garlic.

Leave the garlic, onion, tomato unpeeled. Rub some oil over and broil for about 6 minutes. At this point, the papery skin of garlic/onion will have darkened, and the tomato skin can simply be peeled off.

Broiling onion and garlic for Sambal

Broiling onion and garlic for Sambal

Broiling tomato and garlic for tomato chutney

Broiling tomato and garlic for tomato chutney

Step 3: Blender

Vegetables and softened chilies go into the blender together. Along with salt to taste. If you need liquid to make the blender happy, pour in some of the oil and collected juices from broiling the vegetables; if you need more, add some of the chili soaking liquid.

Step 4: Cook

Empty out the blended hot sauce into a pot and bring to a boil. Then simmer. It only needs to cook for a few minutes. The color will change. Give it a preliminary taste to make sure the salt is right.

Tomato chutney on stovetop

Tomato chutney on stovetop

Step 5: Finishing for the Mexican hot sauce:

If you are doing a Mexican hot sauce, add a teeny bit of vinegar or lime; that’s it, you are done. Slather it over some refried beans.

Step 5: Finishing for the South Indian tomato chutney:

You can let this chutney cook longer to dry it somewhat more than the Mexican hot sauce, as it doesn’t have to be of a pouring consistency.

Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a pan. When hot, put in a half teaspoon of split and dehusked urad dal (Vigna Mungo), when that reddens, half a teaspoon of black mustard seeds, when they pop a few curry leaves. When they shrivel turn off the flame and pour the coconut oil into the tomato chutney. Stir to combine.

Step 5: Finishing for the dried shrimp sambal (Sambal Hebi):

First, a bit about this chili paste, because it was new to me. ‘Sambal oelek’ is a simple chili paste used all over Singapore/Malaysia as a base for many of their dishes; while ‘Sambal Hebi’ has added dried shrimp, garlic and shallots. With the excellent umami additions, this paste can be had as a simple and delicious accompaniment for rice (that’s not how I used it, but the story of what I did with it will have to wait).

Bags of dried shrimp should be available at an Asian grocery store. Here is an online source of it: The Asian Cook Shop. While you are preparing the rest of the sauce, soak about half a cup of dried shrimp in hot simmering water to soften. In 15 minutes, that should be done; take the shrimp out and smash them in a mortar and pestle if you have patience, if not, whirl them in a blender.

Dried shrimp for sambal

Dried shrimp for sambal

Dried shrimp softening in hot water

Dried shrimp softening in hot water

Now remember for the sambal we did not use any tomato, just the garlic, onion and chilies. So the paste will be drier to start with. When you cook the paste, use a bit of oil, and cook it longer than the above two until the oil separates. Also, I did not use any salt at all, preferring to add enough soy sauce to cover the needed saltiness.

Next put the dried shrimp into the pot: stir to have them cook and the entire paste dry up — about 10 minutes. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce, stir to combine, and you are done.

Pounding dried shrimp

Pounding dried shrimp

Pounded dried shrimp

Pounded dried shrimp

Sambal Hebi is done, ready for use as a base for noodles, as a sauce for vegetables, or simply with rice. Recipe source: Indochine Kitchen.

Pounded shrimp added

Pounded shrimp added

Soy sauce added

Soy sauce added

Mexican hot sauce

Ingredients:
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • Half a medium onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • Mix of hot and mild dried red chilies according to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice or 1 teaspoon vinegar
Method:

Described in detail above but in brief: soak the dried red chilies in hot water for 15 minutes. Cover with oil and broil the vegetables (unpeeled) for 6 minutes. Blend along with salt. Cook on stovetop for a few minutes. Add lime juice/vinegar.

South Indian tomato chutney

Ingredients:
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • Mix of hot and mild dried red chilies according to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon urad dal (split and dehusked black gram)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • Few curry leaves
Method:

Described in detail above but in brief: soak the dried red chilies in hot water for 15 minutes. Cover with oil and broil the vegetables (unpeeled) for 6 minutes. Blend along with salt. Cook on stovetop until reduced a bit. Heat coconut oil until shimmering. Add, in this order, the urad dal, when they redden the mustard seeds, when they pop the curry leaves. Turn off and empty the coconut oil into the chutney and stir well.

Malaysian sambal hebi

Ingredients:
  • Half a medium onion or couple shallots
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • Mix of hot and mild dried red chilies according to taste
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup dried shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
Method:

Described in detail above but in brief: soak the dried red chilies in hot water for 15 minutes. Cover with oil and broil the vegetables (unpeeled) for 6 minutes. Blend to a paste.

Meanwhile prepare the shrimp: soak in hot water for 15 minutes until softened. Pound with a mortar and pestle.

Heat oil in a small pot. Empty the chili paste from the blender into it and cook until the oil separates. Add the shrimp to the pot, stir well to combine, and cook for 10 minutes until dry. Now add the soy sauce and stir nicely.


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Knock-your-socks-off Northern style coconut chutney

Coconuts

Coconuts

Coconut is a southern Indian ingredient, but adding some of it to this northern Indian style chutney is a fantastic idea.

It is a simple recipe that you can make by patching together a couple other recipes.

Break a coconut and collect about a sixth of the coconut’s white flesh. Chop it finely or grate it. This website has some really good tips for breaking coconuts and this website talks about how to pry out the flesh.

Make this cilantro chutney, using the following ingredients: cilantro, chilies, onion. Collect all those ingredients in a blender. To this, add 2 tablespoons of this tamarind chutney. To that, add the coconut. To that, add about a half teaspoon salt. Blend, blend, blend, push down with spatula, repeat until you have a chutney.

Coconut chutney northern style

Coconut chutney northern style

I tried a spoon of this to taste; and I had to hold on to the counter it was so good.

It would make a great accompaniment to dosas/idlis, spread on bread, with samosas; or a myriad other ways.

Soap chutney

Green chutney

Green chutney

Only after I first came to these foreign lands as an adult did I realize that there existed people who hated cilantro. I could not conceive of this. In India this deeply cut leaf of the coriander plant tops each meal and many spice pastes are centered around it. It is so commonplace that you would have to stop eating to avoid it. It is commonplace as water. Perhaps not that much. It is as common as…ah, say, soap?

Soap.

Yes, soap. People who intensely dislike cilantro all agree that it reminds them of soap. This is incredible to me. I’m a reasonably clean person, people, and I have had many close encounters with soap. Daily, you might even say. I have eaten cilantro by the fistful. At no time have I had the urge to rub the leaves onto my hands, nor to bite into the bar in the shower.

Soap? What to make of this?

Just to be complete, let us first consider the possibility that there is a secret society of cilantro haters who have secret meetings where they collude on what smell they will all agree cilantro reminds them of. That is a definite possibility, but I’m missing what the motive might be here.

The other possibility is that yes, indeed, cilantro has a secret life where it dabbles in cosmetics.  Because the few people who don’t mention soap, say that cilantro reminds them of lotion.

There is a scientific basis for this. There are fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes; the ones found in soap are same or similar to the ones found in cilantro. As this New York Times article by Harold McGee explains, people from cultures that are used to cilantro have learnt from an early age to tamp down the soapiness of cilantro in favor of the herbal and pungent smells.

Which brings us to cilantro chutney. I for one, adore the smell of cilantro so much that the question for me is: how much cilantro flavor can I pack into each cubic inch? The simplest way to do this is by making a paste.

Green Chutney

Green chutney was a staple in my household. There was always a steel tin of this condiment in the fridge. In earlier days our cook used a grinding stone, something like this:

Stone grinder

Stone grinder

Then the Industrial Age dawned in our household and then we used a blender, the picture of which I do not need to show you.

This chutney is great as a spread on bread, or as a side to all kinds of Indian snacks.

Ingredients:

IMG_0613 IMG_0611

  • 1 bunch of cilantro, rinsed and roughly chopped, including soft stems
  • Anywhere from 1 to 8 serrano chilies, depending on your heat tolerence
  • Half a teaspoon salt or to taste
  • For sourness, 2 teaspoons of lime juice or 1 teaspoon tamarind paste (optional)
  • Half a bunch fresh mint, leaves only (optional)
  • 1 – 2 cloves garlic (optional)
  • Half an inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced (optional)
  • A cubic inch of onion (optional)
  • Half a teaspoon sugar (optional)

Method:

As you might have noticed there are a number of optional ingredients. Just the first three will give you a serviceable green chutney, but the addition of the others will enhance the flavor in their own unique ways. I particularly recommend adding onion, because onion has this unique characteristic (like salt) to bring out the flavor of the other ingredients, while not overstating its own. A good team player, is our onion.

Put everything into a blender with only the water that clings to the leaves from rinsing, and hit go. Maybe add a tablespoon more water but limit this. You might need to stop, stir, and go a few times, but eventually the blades will catch; and you will have your green chutney.

Hot stuff – ginger chutney

adrak chutney 016

I hope you are clutching your socks, Dear Reader, because this recipe is going to Knock Them Off. It combines the heat of chilies with the singe of ginger, spiked with garlic. Just when you think you’ve been slapped around enough, in comes the soothing savoriness of lentils, and then you get your sweet reward.

I thought I was familiar with South Indian food, having grown up in cosmopolitan Bombay. But every once in a while I hear of a preparation that reminds me that restaurant cuisine (for any regional food) is rather more limited than what families actually eat. Restaurant cuisine is a cartoon representation of the reality that plays out in home kitchens.

South Indian food is culturally quite different from North Indian. There is a heavier reliance on rice than on wheat, for one. Then there’s the prevalence of coconut. But the one thing that really interests me (and one that I’ve used in quite diverse recipes, like on salmon — details later) — is that some lentils are used as a spice.

The main one is urad dal (Vigna mungo). This is known as ‘black lentil’ when it is whole, and ‘white lentil’ when it has been split and skin removed. This bean is native to India and one of those stealth ingredients that appears in various forms all over the country — maa ki dal in Punjab, dahi vada all over the north, a third of the grain content for dosas and idlis, and in innumerable recipes as a sprinkling in hot oil as a spice. When used as a spice, it does not add heat, but a sort of sharp savoriness and crunch. Imagine a quieter peanut. It is hard to describe.

But the star of this show is ginger, another tropical beauty. So let us proceed with ginger chutney. I got this recipe from my friend Rama who hails from South India. She will vouch for its authenticity and I vouch for hers.

Ingredients:

2 inch piece of ginger

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon urad dal (split and skinned)

1.5 tablespoon channa dal (bengal gram)

4 – 5 dry red chilies, or adjust to your heat preference

half a teaspoon tamarind paste (I use the paste that comes in a jar rather than the pods) — or substitute lime juice

half an inch square of jaggery — substitute with sugar

salt to taste

Method:

Mince the ginger and garlic. Their relative proportion are shown here:

adrak chutney 003

Ginger chutney: ginger and garlic

Also have the dals and dry red chilies ready to go, and their relative proportion is shown here:

adrak chutney 004

Ginger chutney: dals and red chilies

Warm a small, thick-bottomed pan with a teaspoon of oil. When the oil shimmers, put in the dals, first. Stir for around 5 minutes on high-ish heat, until they smell roasty and get reddened. They will turn color into something like this:

adrak chutney 007

Ginger chutney: roasted dals

Remove them to a vessel while draining the oil, and in the same oil, roast the dry red chilies. In a few seconds they will swell and in several more seconds they will darken. Turn the hood on if you have one or open windows, or you will pay for it by coughing. Remove the chilies once they darken. The spices to be dry-ground are done.

adrak chutney 010

Ginger chutney: dry spices

Now in the remaining oil, add the ginger and garlic. Add a drop more oil if needed, to moisten them completely. Stir on medium heat until they look shrunken and cooked (not brown). Like so:

adrak chutney 011

Ginger chutney: ginger garlic

At this point, I put the jaggery into the hot oil along with the ginger and garlic, to get some of that caramel flavor going. The heat, and the pressing with wooden spoon, got the jaggery melted and combined with the ginger and garlic, like so:

adrak chutney 013

Ginger chutney: ginger, garlic, jaggery

Turn of the flame, and now the grinding starts. First the dry spices are ground separately in a coffee grinder to produce a coarse powder:

adrak chutney 014

Ginger chutney: dry spices

Now for the blender step. Pour the dry spices, the ginger and garlic, the half teaspoon of tamarind, some salt to taste, and some water to lubricate the blades. Blend for about 3-4 minutes to get a smooth paste:

adrak chutney 015

There, you have your ginger chutney, ready to eat with idlis or dosas. Those are just the traditional accompaniments, but this chutney could add a lot to a sandwich with roasted vegetables, or a felafel wrap, or spread on baked chicken.

Update on 3/28/14: So months after posting this, I’m entering this in this month’s Spice Trail contest which is about ginger, hosted by Vanesther at the Bangers and Mash blog:

http://bangermashchat.wordpress.com/

Go thou and explore!