July 18, 2011
As a young girl growing up in an Indian home outside of Philadelphia, we had what every other family (or so I thought at the time) had on the block: a patch of mint growing in the backyard.
It was off to the side under the kitchen window, along the house itself and purposely planted in a barren dirt patch.
This small spot of green would swell by the minute in the spring and summer - after, mind you, surviving the onslaught of winter. Nothing can kill mint. If you've ever grown the stuff, you know that it's as aggressive as a weed and impossible to control.
That is, until I was sent by my mother to tackle it.
Armed with an oversized stainless steel bowl and a pair of kitchen shears, I was always instructed to enter the 'mint zone' just hours before any big weekend party. In those days (the 70s and 80s and before catering became a fad) mom cooked almost everything from scratch for our some 30 guests -- Indian friends in the area that were even closer at times than the blood relatives thousands of miles away in India. It was a group that took turns at the time throwing weekend get-togethers on a regular rotation.
I would carefully clip the stems to the bottom in bunches, throw them in the bowl, and strip each stem naked with fingers that turned green by the end of it. All the leaves would then be carefully washed and primed for a quick crush in the blender. Some lemon juice, onion, ginger, garlic, a green chile pepper, salt, and red chile powder was all it took to make a deeply fragrant mint chutney.
The word chutney, derived from Sanskrit, means so many things to so many people. It can be sweet. It can be savory. It depends on which region of Indian you are from and how you'll be using it. It's traditionally used as a garnish for a meal or as a condiment on sandwiches and crackers. Our leftover mint chutney was slathered on bread along with butter for a chutney sandwich which the thought of, to this day, still makes my mouth water.
Some chutneys are made completely from fresh ingredients, relying on a simple splash of lemon juice for acid. Others have you pour a light tempering of heated oil and spices over your fresh ingredients. And still others have you cook all ingredients together with sugar and vinegar to create a jelly-like result. Mango chutney is the best example of this last one. The possibilities, frankly, are endless.
This summer, after having access to fresh, local strawberries in my Irv and Shelly's Fresh Picks shipment, I decided to give Strawberry Chutney a try. The result was an amazingly easy, delicious treat. I hope you'll try it out yourself.
Yield: 1 cup
1 pound strawberries, hulled and chopped (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons (30 mL) distilled white vinegar
1/3 cup light brown sugar (slightly more if you like it sweeter)
1 (1-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
3 whole cloves
1 green cardamom pod, lightly crushed
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick 1 pinch garam masala
1 pinch red chile powder or cayenne
1 pinch salt
1. Put all ingredients except salt in heavy, deep pan on medium-high heat. Stir to ensure the sugar dissolves.
2. Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat to medium and allow it to continue to simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
3. Add the salt, remove whole spices, and cool for about 20 minutes before serving. You can refrigerate for about two weeks. Eat as a snack with crackers, use a dollop in your yogurt parfait, use as a filler for muffins and crepes, try it on pancakes and waffles...the possibilities are endless.
Note: If the strawberries are the small, locally-grown variety, I like to keep them whole. But, if they are the conventionally store-bought size, I prefer to chop them up to make it easier to use the chutney as a spread.
Try This! Use the mixture as a spread with butter or Nutella on your favorite bread.