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Condiments from South Asia: Tomato & Saffron Chutney and Sour Lemon Pickle

How many times have you gone to a restaurant and asked from extra sauce or any other condiment to complement your entree? Most of you should answer this question in the positive. It is human nature to want more, to be surrounded by variety and to tickle your taste buds with a plethora of flavors. Condiments, dipping sauces and flavored oils provide you with just that comfort. As essential are the flavors of your entree, that extra oomph can only be provided by these side accompaniments. Popular in the West are ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, similarly sweet chilli sauce is a must with spring rolls in Thailand. However, across South Asia, chutneys and achars are found on every dining table, and mostly eaten with every meal, either as an accompaniment or simply on their own. Their strong and pungent flavors can be tasted simply by dipping them in bread or roti.

Tomato Chutney

The distinction between chutneys and achar is in their consistency; chutneys are a mix of vegetables, herbs and spices, whereas achars are preserves, normally vegetables in large quantities of oil. But their taste is a class apart, bursting with flavor and aroma. It may not be known to many but chutneys gained popularity in the beginning of the 17th century, when they were exported to France and England from the Subcontinent, branded as luxury goods. Hence this tradition of serving chutney with cooked meat is still very much a part of European culture, and has spread as far as the Caribbean and South America. But the villages of the Subcontinent are the places where you can actually taste the earthiness in the chutneys; they still use the age old methods of grinding the spices using a mortar and pestle, making sure not even an iota of flavor escapes. You can actually see the color of the chutney changing in the mortar with every addition of spice, However, with the invention of a food processor, the sensory pleasures have given to make place for convenience, but still chutneys and achars are a must for every food lover to try, at least once.

Tomato and Saffron Chutney (Tamater Ki Chutney)

Ingredients:

  • 450g ripe tomatoes
  • 225g sugar
  • 1 tsp almonds, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 150ml malt vinegar
  • 25g raisins
  • 150ml water
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds (kalonji)
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Preparation:

  • Peel the skin off the tomatoes and chop them roughly
  • In a bowl set over low heat, dissolve the sugar in water to create a syrup
  • Add the remaining ingredients, except the saffron and reduce the heat
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally for about 45 minutes, till tomatoes are reduced to a pulp
  • Dissolve the saffron in a tablespoon of water and add it to the mixture
  • Cook for another 5-10 minutes
  • Take the chutney off the heat and allow to cool completely
  • Transfer in a glass jar or serve immediately
  • Can be stored for 2-3 weeks

Tomato Chutney

Sour Lemon Pickle (Nimboo Ka Achar)

Ingredients:

  • 6 small lemons
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 12 cloves
  • 6 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 black cardamom pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken up
  • 6 tsp salt

Preparation:

  • Clean the lemons with a damp cloth and leave to dry
  • In a spice grinder, add the peppercorns, cardamom, cumin seeds, cinnamon and cloves. Grind till it becomes a fine powder
  • Add the salt and mix with a spoon
  • Quarter the lemons lengthwise, so that the four sections remain attached at the bottom. Remove seeds
  • Cover the lemons with the spice mixture, rubbing them all over the cut portions of the lemon.
  • Close the lemons and put them into a large jar, cut side up
  • Cover the jar with a lid and store it in a warm, sunny spot for 24 hours
  • Add the lemon juice to the jar, the next day, cover and shake well
  • For the next one month, store the pickle in the same sunny spot and shake well 3-4 times a day.
  • Remove the wedges before eating
  • Do not refrigerate

Sour Lemon Pickle

Just like wine, achar too becomes better with age; the longer its stored, the more flavorful the pickles. Having a barbecue this weekend, why not whip up some chutneys to go along with your favorite meat?

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