Chutney has an almost magical power to transform an ordinary meal into one that looks enticing, tastes great, and brims with nutrients. The term chutney is derived from the Hindi word ‘chatni’, which means to lick.
The traditional Indian thali, be it Gujarati or South Indian, features chutney as an integral part of the fare. A freshly prepared chutney is a delicious blend of flavours that can instantly uplift a bland meal.
Take khichdi, for example, which was traditionally prepared as a remedial dish in case of sickness. A spoonful of fresh chutney swiftly transforms khichdi into a delectable dish. Back in the colonial era, gourmands and chefs were quick to realise the worthiness of chutneys and used it to their advantage extensively.
Come to think of it, it’s impossible to imagine eating a kebab, tikka or any tandoori item, without a chutney to go with it. Even the dosa and the samosa feel incomplete without their accompaniments.
It is sad to see that in the modern day, we have replaced the indigenous chutneys with their poorer cousins – the store-bought, mass-manufactured spreads, sauces and ketchups.
A reason for this change has been the misplaced notion that hot and spicy foods are detrimental to health. Chutneys also came to be looked upon as an indulgence of sorts, best when avoided.
This, I believe, is the cyclic pattern of popularity that rules the world of food, clothing and almost everything else that we deal with.
The diversity of India can be mapped through the kinds of chutney prepared across the country. In fact, this would make for a delightful school project to help children understand food diversity.
The varying ingredients used to prepare chutneys are usually based on their availability and seasonality. To add a tangy zest to the preparation, some parts of the country use tamarind (imli), while some others use lemon or amchur.
The raw mango takes centre stage in summer, although every household has its unique mango chutney recipe with varying ingredients added in different ratios. Also, many different chutneys around India that are prepared with a tomato base.
The tomato could be raw or cooked. A sweet-and-sour chutney or one that is akin to a salsa where the raw tomato is blended with chillies and onion.
The dose of lycopene that you get with these tomato chutneys is great for the health of your heart, prostate, eyes, skin and more. Coconut chutney is a favourite in the coastal regions, where coconut is found in plenty.
A popular version has a splattering of mustard seeds, green chillies and some dal blended in to provide the good fat, vitamins and minerals. A couple of months ago, I shared the recipe for a curry leaf chutney that I regularly prepare as an accompaniment to my meals.
I was happy to learn that many of you tried it out, enjoyed the taste, and benefited from its high content of Vitamin A & C. The pandemic has reintroduced many herbs and spices into our regular diet, and chutneys are a great way to include all these different foods, textures and flavours into the diet.
The variety is indeed unlimited – a friend of mine specialises in preparing chutneys from a delightful combination of unlikely ingredients such as raw papaya, ginger, dates, tomato and tamarind.
A great way to use the oft-discarded coriander stalks, which are so flavourful and loaded with vitamins, can easily be included in a chutney. The regular intake of well-prepared chutneys and fermented pickles can be a beneficial adjunct to a healthy diet.
Nutrition Therapist & Wellness Consultant