“This is a chutney?”, I thought in my head. I immediately distrusted this vinegar reeking, almost black, cubed-something bottle of what?? On my first UK visit, in the tiny kitchen of The Scotsman’s flat, the man himself assured me that it delivers in the eating. He slathered some over pink slices of ham on bread and toasted the whole. The combination was a new found revelation! I have been a big fan of British chutneys ever since and love making my own.
It’s bonkers to think of how deeply ingrained ideas of food are in our minds, that even the slightest change challenges not the only the tastebuds, but everything! From chutneys , I was introduced to pickles (Branston- which is kinda like a chutney, no?- and the brined vegetable pickles) and relishes. Somewhere in between, all the demarcating lines seemed to smudge into each other. It’s funny how my head just couldn’t register this change of form. Chutney is supposed to be fresh! Sure, the word chutney is borrowed from India. But it’s all mixed up in that, a British Chutney is more alike to what we call pickles (acchaar), cooked in the same way most of the time, as British chutneys – with onions, spices and acid. Chutney for Keralites and Southerners in general, is always a freshly made condiment, closer in practice to the Indonesian Sambals.
I struggle to say that this is an authentic green chutney, simply because the variations are boundless. However, it is authentic in that, we ate it growing up. This is my mother’s recipe. She would cook up a huge pot of chicken biryani for our birthdays and grind vast amounts of this chutney to along with it. Leftover biryani was mixed in with the chutney, stuffed into red peppers and baked the next day. It’s hard to make a call on which meal I love best!
Ground fresh coconut, chilli, tomato, spices and herbs are the usual base players. Texture is important, its form is dictated by the meal it is going to accompany. Rice based dishes such as biryani call for a firm, medium coarse paste and usually coconut and coriander based, so that it’s easy to pick and mix into the rice with your fingers. Crepe like dosas need much more liquid mixes, so that the torn piece of dosa can be slicked generously as it’s dipped into a puddle of chutney. Here, cooked and tempered tomato and curry leaf chutneys are de rigeur. The heat levels, spice blends and consistency vary, not only from state to state, but also in homes.
For this, fresh coconut, green chilli, fresh coriander and mint leaves are ground together and crucially, just enough lemon juice is added to offer piquancy as well as to brighten the flavour of the herbs. You can use desiccated (unsweetened, dried) coconut, if you can’t get your hands on the fresh stuff. Just mix it in with some warm water and set aside for 10 minutes to rehydrate, else you will feel like you’re eating small, shards of flavoured sawdust that stick at the back of the throat. Not pleasant.
School lunch boxes often housed these green chutney sandwiches. Sometimes mum would make triple decker style, duo coloured sandwiches, from a chutney using tomatoes. These days, I like adding slices of spiced grilled chicken and if the fancy takes me, and I can be bothered, paper thin slices of cucumber too. The citrus intensified herby hit of this coconut chutney, against warmly spiced moist chicken and the cooling crunch of cucumber, coming together within the crumb of a soft bread, is an incredibly satisfying study of flavour and texture.
In the photos, I used plastic white bread as that’s all I had. Don’t snigger! I had the components ready to go (minus the cucumber – oh the torment!) and I couldn’t be bothered dashing out for a ‘proper’ loaf of bread. Besides, I was starving! And there were still photos to be taken! Can I admit though, that here plastic bread is entirely pleasurable? I can totally understand if you would prefer to make this a wholemeal bread and a good bakery bought one at that. My only stipulation is that this works better when the bread is soft. I would go for a lighter, white flour mixed wholemeal as the flavour of the chutney is quite fresh yet subtle and would be slightly overwhelmed by the earthy nuttiness of a dark loaf. Your call.
I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to eat something I was going to photograph as desperately as I wanted to eat this. Once the last shot was taken, the plateful was attacked. Such satisfaction! My kids were suspicious of the ‘green line’ in the sandwich (is that genetically inbuilt into kids??).” It’s greeeeeeen mummy!” wailed Lil Lassie and Lil Loon declared, ” It wooks yuckky!” I practically shoved a piece into their mouths, just to get them to try it. After which their common scowls turned to sheepish smiles. Ha! ” See, mummy knows best!”
As did mine.
Chutney & Chicken Sandwiches
2 cups of fresh coconut (or 1/2 cup dessicated coconut soaked in 1/2 cup of warm water for 10 minutes)
1 green chilli
1.25″ piece of ginger
1 garlic clove
4 small shallots (or 4 spring onions, whites only)
A medium bunch of fresh coriander
Good handful of fresh mint leaves
Juice of one lemon, approximately
Put all the above ingredients, except the lemon juice, in a processor or spice grinder and mince to a medium-fine paste. Add just enough lemon juice, to make it tangy with a fresh zing, rather than sour with a bite! Adjust salt and add more herbs, if necessary. This chutney will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. Best eaten at room temperature.
For the Chicken:
One large chicken breast, flattened slightly
1/8 tsp of turmeric
1/4 tsp of ground coriander
just under 1/4 tsp of cumin
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp flavourless oil
Mix all the above ingredients together and rub all over the chicken. If you can, let it marinade overnight. If not, just coat and cook. Cook on a grill pan for approximately 8-10 minutes. Much depends on the size of your chicken breasts. Check whether cooked through and that it’s not pink in the middle. Let it rest for 5 minutes or let it cool completely, before slicing.
For the sandwich:
Butter you chosen bread slices. Spread over a good amount of chutney. Lay over slices of the grilled chicken and then thin slices of cucumber (optional) over it.
For a vegetarian /vegan option, leave out the butter and the chicken. It’s still delicious!