Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A chutney

A few weeks ago I wrote about an abiding passion for the lemons that grace our garden. Heaving with fruit, the tree, if I was to savour its bounty, needed some serious harvesting and some serious preserving. North African preserved lemons were quickly followed by pickled lemon slices that sit prettily in their large jar, layers interspersed with sprinklings of paprika, topped to the brim with golden olive oil. Recipe courtesy of Claudia Roden. (I think I love this woman. No, seriously). Putting them away felt wrong, so there they sit on the bench for me to admire daily. When the sun hits them, briefly in the morning, nothing seems more cheerful.

Still, the tree heaved. Next, a large batch of bitter-sweet Meyer lemon and vanilla bean marmalade, something I finally cracked with help from Tamasin Day-Lewis. For the uninitiated Tamasin seems bossy, her methods and tone demanding. But it’s for your own good, people. It was worth every second of my devotion. Soft-set, golden and wobbly. I can’t stop eating it, straight from the jar with, it has to be said, a large spoon.

Of all the things one can cook with, make magic in the kitchen with, spices are the most intriguing. There’s a world of opportunity in a spice rack. Time for a chutney. A hot, spicy Indian one.

Last year when I first made this, I didn’t know what to expect. It comes from Julie Sahni’s excellent ‘Classic Indian Vegetarian Cookery’, a book without pictures; a book full of authentic and aromatic food. My favourite kind. The spices seemed bold and the method unlike any other. In her introduction she states, ‘Anglo-Indians have their chutneys, too, and here is one. It’s easy to make, as are most Anglo-Indian foods…’. Easy? Well, I don’t know about you, but I love seeing that particular word in any ‘preserving’ section.

In a word, it’s sensational. But be warned. This is not a chutney as many people would know it, not something you’d be spreading thickly on a cheddar and tomato sandwich (though, come to think of it, thinly spread isn’t a bad idea); rather it is a balance of all the flavours that makes the foods of the sub-continent so irresistibly unique. Hot, sour, salty, bitter, sweet. It livens up anything even vaguely Indian –anything using paneer cheese or silky eggplant. Pulses and grains welcome its hot sweetness too. Once made, put it away and leave it alone for a full month to mature. In two weeks it will just be ready, but you’ll thank me if you can be patient for another two.

And I especially like the Indian name for it, Nimboo Chatni. Much cooler.

Anglo-Indian Lemon Chutney – makes about 1 litre, maybe a little less
Adapted from Classic Indian Vegetarian Cookery by Julie Sahni.

I’ve cut the amount of chilli considerably, mostly because I’m a chilli wimp. If you like things to be searingly hot, by all means up the chilli. But you’ve been warned, okay? This will take three days, but it’s ridiculously easy.

The spices:
7 green cardamom pods
1 tablespoon of peppercorns
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
1 tablespoon of brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon of red chilli (pepper) flakes

The rest:
12 small lemons (preferably thin-skinned)
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 small hot red chillies, roughly chopped
Knob of ginger, about 2.5cm, grated
125g of seedless raisins or sultanas
350ml of cider vinegar
3 tablespoons of coarse sea salt
500g of brown sugar

Day one:
Gently crack the cardamom pods and release the seeds. Discard the green pods. Place a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat and when hot, add the spices. Shake and toss the pan constantly until they start to smell enticing – a matter of about 3 minutes all up. Remove to a plate and cool completely before grinding to a powder in either a clean coffee grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

Halve and juice the lemons. Strain the juice and set aside.

Discard 6 of the lemon shells, leaving you with 18 halves. Add these to the bowl of a food processor along with the onion, chillies, ginger and raisins. Whiz until finely minced. Tip into a large bowl and stir in the ground spices, reserved juice and the cider vinegar. Mix to combine, cover and leave at room temperature for 2 days.

Day two:
It will look like a pile of slush. Revolting, but desirable. Trust me.

Day three:
Uncover and transfer to a non-metallic pan. Add the sea salt and sugar and gently bring to the boil over a low heat, stirring often. Cook, uncovered, gently bubbling, for 30 minutes. Stir from time to time, but stand back – it has a tendency to spit and burble, like a small volcano towards the end of the cooking time.

Sterilise 3 or 4 jars while it’s bubbling. There are lots of guidelines out there, so follow your preferred method.

While hot, ladle into the jars, seal tightly and invert until cool (this creates a vacuum). Store right way up, for at least 2 weeks before eating, preferably 4 weeks or longer, and refrigerate when opened.

Easy and very good. It will be ready just as we get home from our travels.

Just in time.


Rosa said...

I see there are more cookbooks I still need to buy! Lovely, evocative writing, and gorgeous photos. A few more months until lemon season begins here, but I'm bookmarking this one.

Wendy said...

Wow! That's impressive chutney! It sounds absolutely divine.
Tasmin Day Lewis annoys me greatly. Grudgingly, I must admit her recipes always turn out wonderfully.

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

Hot, sour, salty, bitter and sweet?! My taste buds are exploding from here! Can I get on your Xmas list?

Susan said...

So, I was right about the coriander and mustard, but those black peppercorns really had me fooled. I'd be fool not to eat a whole jar of this on my own. The flavors richocheting off each other sound ravishing. I'm spellbound.

Callipygia said...

You are right this chutney sounds so intriguing while being easy. especially with the pureed rind. Maybe it'll be the recipe that gets me over the ambivalence of canning!

Lucy said...

Rosa, I hope you enjoy it - it's great and makes more than enough to last a year! Thank you. Means a lot to me coming from you.

Wendy, she's really bossy, isn't she? It's funny, but people seem to hate her when they've seen her on the telly, but I've (luckily) only seen her once! All that hair! Her recipes and writing though, I adore.

It's a lovely balance Mevrouw Cupcake, one of my favourites. Hey, now an exchange of Christmas goodies. That's a good idea!

You were Susan, and I was tempted to congratulate you yesterday but managed to hold off! I love the Indian name for it almost as much as the flavours that really do play off one another.

Hi Callipygia, yes, if it has the word 'easy' attached to it, I'm there. Less science here and more flavour. I love that it uses the whole fruit - you could use limes in place of the lemons.

Nora B. said...

How wonderful Lucy. I can almost spell the aroma of the different spices.

p/s: lovely photos

Anh said...

This is truly lovely! I have been thinking of making some preserve lemon but never have enough time for it...

And yes, I love Claudia Roden. She is such a wonderful and inteliggent food writer. Her recipe has never failed to impress me!

Lucy said...

Thanks Nora! The spices really do make this something special.

Anh, Claudia Roden writes so beautifully - I love her Book of Jewish Food. With Jewish step-sons, it makes cooking for them and understanding their religious rituals just that little bit easier.

Cynthia said...

I'm inhaling deeply to take in the aroma...

Anonymous said...

Hi. Love the sound of this chutney and would like to make it. I am a weakling when it comes to chilli also. Is the amount of chilli in your recipe here the reduced amount, or the full amount?


Lucy said...

Those spices do smell good Cynthia!

Hi Anon - I've reduced the amount Julie Sahni originally recommends considerably (she uses 8 chillies!)and it's just right for me in the amounts given. The sugar cancels out much of the heat, thankfully. If you're really sensitive, I'd leave out the chilli flakes in the spice mixture - they're really where much of the heat comes from. I'd love to hear how you go!

kathryn said...

I only bought my first Claudia Roden book this year. And, along with Madhur Jaffrey, I'm also totally in awe of her. In fact, I'm horrified I've come this far in my life without owning and Claudia or knowing exactly how good she is. Beautiful, beautiful, exciting recipes THAT WORK and taste fabulous.

winedeb said...

I am in awe! I have never heard of Claudia but I will be looking for her. Lucy, you writing is so inspiring and the photos to go along. When are you going to publish a book? I see one in the making right here. Very nice indeed!

jeena said...

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Jeena xx

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Lucy said...

She's a wonder, isn't she Kathryn? Love Jaffrey too. Have you tried the Fattet Hummus from the New Book of Middle Eastern Food? There's a great vegetarian spot down here called the Moroccan Soup Kitchen and they serve a dish disarmingly similar that people RAVE about. I was naturally very pleased to find it the book!

Deb, you are so very sweet! You know, just between you and I (and anyone else who reads the comments I guess), I am writing something. I'll keep you posted as I get my act together...do try to find Claudia Roden - her Orange and almond cake is easy and world famous (rightly so!).

Hi Jeena, thank you! Don't mind if I do...

winedeb said...

It's just me again, love that 1st photo - little lemon stars!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting recipe. :)

Christina said...

I want this now. I'm not sure what I'd slather it on, but I want it anyway. Just a few months before the Meyers start coming in, then this will bubble on the stove.

Thanks for sharing such a gorgeous recipe, so beautifully explained.

Debbie Herd said...

The chutney looks fantastic. I have a tree full of Tahitian Limes waiting to be used. Debbie.

Kim said...

Oh my. I've just found you via Poppalina and am just so pleased.

The inverting the jars seems to be an Indian thing - a 'friend' of mine, Ajoy Joshi, who owns Nilgiri's in Sydney does the same thing. In fact, he said that if you do this you don't need to sterilise the jars beforehand. But I'm too chicken to try.

This looks enticing.

I am currently planning on making a chutney but of the English variety.

I too have been marmalade making, but it was cumquats for me, and the first time in three years I haven't burnt it.

I am so pleased I've found you.

But I think I said that already.

Cassie Young said...

I am absolutely in heaven here reading about this wonderful sounding lemon chutney. I have to make this!

Hope you have a lovely weekend, Lucy. :)

Lucy said...

Aw, shucks Deb. You do say the nicest things!

Great complex spicing, Maryann.

Christina - you'd love it I think. I'm not sure how you'll use it, but I know you'll use it wonderfully. Hope you're enjoying the bounty of autumn.

Thanks Debbie - I reckon limes would be just as good, if not better. Lucky you, eh?!

Hi Kim, welcome! I saw your marmalade - looks fabulous - and I too would be way too scared not to sterilise the jars, inverted or not! I'm glad you found me - now I've found you.

Cassie - I will have a lovely weekend. Aren't you lovely? You too. I think this would work well with a lot of your very beautiful meals.

kathryn said...

I haven't even got the New Book of Middle Eastern Food - let alone having tried the Fattet Hummous. I'm going to have to get that immediately. Thanks for the recommendation, you're quite a cookbook-finding resource!