Indian Chutneys are spicy, sweet or sour dishes that add variety and flavour to a South Indian meal. Indian chutneys can be made with a limitless range of ingredients, from yogurt to soft green herbs to peanuts, and are made by grinding or pounding raw or cooked ingredients. They can be smooth or chunky, they are served as a sauce, or like a dressing or used as a dip, or they act as a side dish. Chutneys are so loved that coconut chutney is even served for breakfast in many places.
Chutneys vary across India, but if we look for a common feature of chutneys it is the grinding of the ingredients together. Traditionally this is done with a mortar and pestle, but most homes now use a grinder or food processor. Often referred to as condiments, Indian chutneys are more than condiments. They are much more like a tangy dish that is used freely at meal time and with snacks. Indian chutneys bring out the essential flavours of the ingredient being used, intensifying the flavour and enhancing it with spices. They are eaten at most days in a South Indian household, adding zing to a meal – they are an essential part of meal time. There is no equivalent of Indian Chutneys anywhere else in the world, even though the ubiquitous English chutneys were first made in an attempt to reproduce the flavours experienced in their occupation of India.
Chutneys are often an integral part of the meal, having been made to complement the other dishes and the spices and seasonings used in those dishes, as the chutney and dishes are meant to be eaten together.
There are three main varieties of Indian chutneys: fresh chutneys, cooked chutneys, and dry chutneys.
Fresh South Indian chutneys are smooth purees made from uncooked ingredients, perhaps seasoned with a tadka of mustard seeds, dal, and curry leaves. They are best freshly made, but they stay good for a couple of days if refrigerated. Made from raw ingredients this type of chutney is unlike most other Indian dishes which have at least some degree of cooking.
Cooked chutneys will last several days to a week, and can be frozen successfully. Although traditionally eaten with rice and Indian dishes, they can be used in a variety of ways including in spreads, dips, sauces and dressings.
Dry Chutneys are ingredients ground without added moisture. There are two types – powders formed from grinding spices and lentils together, called podi, and the grinding of ingredients that contain enough oil or moisture to form a chunky paste, for example dry peanut chutney and dry coconut chutney,
Street Foods and Chatpate Chutneys
Indian Street Food is famous for its use of chutneys which give it its characteristic flavours. Often multiple chutneys are used together in street foods – one tangy, one spicy, one fresh and green, for example. These chutneys are made with either a coconut base or onion base to which some green herbs and spices are added. They add colour, flavour and texture to the wonderful street foods of India.
Other Ways to Use Indian Chutneys
Besides the traditional uses of Indian chutneys, try these:
- Hot chutneys pair well with creamy curries.
- Mix a hot chutney through plain rice.
- Fruity chutneys pair well with hot curries.
- Sweet chutneys and tart chutneys go well with cheese.
- Sweet chutneys go well with biscuits, crackers and sandwiches.
- Mix chutney with yoghurt for a dipping sauce or marinade for tofu or paneer.
- Chutneys go so well in sandwiches. They can also be mixed with cream cheese to make a spread.
- Chutney with yoghurt or mayonnaise can be used to dress a salad.