how to make any fruit chutney + two recipes: mango chutney, spiced plum chutney

Being the obsessed foodie that I am, I enjoy making stuff from scratch. This goes for most of my cooking, but in some areas I fall behind. Such as condiments. Let’s be real – I am not going to try to recreate a more perfect ketchup than Heinz or ferment a batch of soy beans for a rustic version of soy sauce (but please, someone, free up my time, give me a test kitchen and I will go to town). These are condiments that are of so high standards and some of these (ketchup) I use so sparingly, that to make them from scratch seems unnecessary (again, please hold in store for me a future, in which I can make 76 types of ketchup!).

Chutney on the other hand, I find to be less than desirable when buying from the supermarket. A quick note: in this post I am talking about the kind of chutney that is cooked with sugar and vinegar. The thick goopy type. According to the holy grail (Wikipedia) these are ‘Western-style chutneys’ which ‘originated from Anglo-Indians at the time of the British Raj’.

Back to the supermarket super-goo chutney. Although I like the flavour in most, I just can’t get over the consistency. They are firm and yet super sticky. You put some on your food and swirl it around only to find that you didn’t really mix it that well. So you end up with a clump of chutney which is still refrigerator cold in the middle. No thank you!

I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was going to make chutney. I researched a lot, finding that none of the recipes out there really resonated with me. So, without any formal chutney training and never before making it, I made it the way I would like it. While some may crucify my method, I am just going to say: they taste damn good and my boyfriend love them. That is a seal of approval you can count on. Trust me!

Tips on making any fruit chutney

Here are some tips on making any (western-style) fruit chutney:

  • Use any fruit you like. Pears, apples, pineapples, plums, mangoes, papayas and quince are some good choices. Even berries, such as strawberries, can be used, but I would recommend starting with a less ‘bold’ choice.
  • Choose your sugar and vinegar: brown sugar has a more spiced taste, than white sugar and will complement a darker chutney. Apple cider vinegar has a fruity taste and will lighten up your chutney. There are so many options (how about a quince chutney made with coconut sugar and elderflower vinegar?) so mix and match. Use what you have. Use what you want.
  • Play around with spices. I use my trusted book to find inspiration.
  • Depending on the fruit and/or ripeness, the cooking time will be different for every batch of chutney you make. There is no fixed time. This is where you need to trust yourself. Let’s say we are making a batch of mango chutney, but your mangoes are not ripe. Either you wait for the mangoes to ripen (which will make the chutney taste another kind of delicious) or you can go ahead and cook the chutney anyway. You risk running into the problem of your liquid being too reduced before your mango is cooked, right? Yes, that’s correct, but you can fix it. Instead of adding more liquid, and altering the taste, put on a tight-fitting lid. The steam will collect in the top and drip down on your fruit, steaming it and making reduction minimal. Just remember to remove the lid at some point.
  • No need to use too much sugar. Sugar conserves, but if you make small batches there is really no need. I for one don’t enjoy a burning throat sensation from sugar overload
  • On the subject of ripeness and sugar. Use less sugar for riper fruit, and more for unripe fruit. Taste as you go. You can add sugar in later, just make sure you give it enough cooking time to dissolve and mix nicely into the chutney.
  • Make small batches – this way you will be able to eat it up, make more and thus experiment more!

Two Recipes
I knew I wanted to make a mango chutney, as this is a favourite of mine. The idea of a spicy plum chutney came when talking about the idea for this post with a dear colleague of mine. I totally trust her flavor palette and also – she eats a lot of indian food as do I!

mango chutney papadum


MANGO CHUTNEY
Makes approx. 1 1/2 cup – 1 small jar
In my eyes, a classic chutney. It is essential as a dipping sauce for a crisp papadum. Or as a topping for a chana masala. Or to mix in with yoghurt. Or….

1 hot red chili
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp oil
1/2 tbsp cumin
1 tsp nigella seeds
2 mangoes
2 tsp sea salt
70 g white sugar (approx. 1/3 cup)
120 ml (approx. 1/2 cup) white wine vinegar

DIRECTIONS

  • Deseed the chili and slice thinly. Chop the garlic. Cut the mango into cubes. 
  • In a small saucepan, big enough to hold everything, heat the oil over low-medium heat. When hot add in the chili and garlic and fry for a few minutes without the garlic browning too much. Add in the cumin and nigella seeds. Cook until fragrant. About 1/2 a minute.
  • Add in the mango and salt, stirring well to coat the mango. When the mango has released some water, about 2-3 minutes, add in the sugar and cook until sugar has dissolved. Let it cook for a few minutes after the sugar has dissolved. 
  • Add in the vinegar and, if not already, make the mixture come to a boil and turn down the heat to low. Let simmer until fruit is soft, and easy to mash, and the liquid has reduced to a jam-like consistency. Mine took about 50 minutes. 
  • Pour into sterilised airtight glass jars. Should keep for a week in the refrigerator.

SPICED PLUM CHUTNEY
Makes approx. 1 1/2 cup – 1 small jar
This chutney, as the mango, is great with papadums. It is also brilliant as a side to a pork chop, or as a topping on any respectable cheese platter. 

2 small shallots
4 plums
1 tbsp oil
1 star anise 
1/2 tsp crushed coriander seeds
2 tsp sea salt
85 g (between 1/3 and 2/3 cups) dark brown sugar
100 ml (1/3 cup + 1 tbsp) apple cider vinegar
A splash of balsamic vinegar

DIRECTIONS

  • Chop the shallots. Split the plums, remove the pit and cut into medium cubes.
  • In a small saucepan, big enough to hold everything, heat the oil over low-medium heat. When hot add in the shallots and cook until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add in the star anise and coriander seeds and cook until fragrant, about 1/2 a minute.
  • Add in the plums and salt, stirring well to coat the plums. When the plums has released some water, about 2-3 minutes, add in the sugar and cook until sugar has dissolved. Then, let it cook for a few minutes after the sugar has dissolved. 
  • Add in both the vinegars and, if not already, make the mixture come to a boil and turn down the heat to low. Let simmer until fruit is soft, and easy to mash, and the liquid has reduced to a jam-like consistency. Mine took about 40 minutes. 
  • Remove the star anise, since leaving it can create a strong and a bitter taste.
  • Pour into sterilised airtight glass jars. Should keep for a week in the refrigerator.

Kimchi and thoughts on trial & error

There is probably much to be said about trial and error. Not from me. Other than trial which equals error also equals see you again, never. Now, I’m not a quitter, and some things just have got to go right, even though it only generates failed attempts, and so I will power through. However, when it comes to cooking – I just don’t have the patience for a pancake batter that sticks to the bottom of the pan and what parts are cooked are strangely sponge-like. My (frustrated) thinking being that this means, pancakes just is not meant to be. I will abandon the idea, although not happily.

But then there are times when I make something quite inedible and I know exactly what it is I have to fix to make the dish into something really great. It’s pretty much that I added too much or too little of a certain element, and in those cases I have the patience. Like I had with this kimchi which initially turned out to be a fish sauce vessel made from cabbage – not enjoyable and definitely not edible. So I made another batch, cut the disrupting element out altogether, and as predicted it came out perfect and balanced. 

As it turns out I do have some things to say about trial and error. This strange little contradictory ramble is just to say that if you let go of preconceived ideas about perfection and incorporate a little error, it will benefit you and your learning curve immensely. 

Lecture aside, I use few ingredients and a very low-key preparation method. It is beautifully deceiving – it makes for some really crunchy, savory, fresh and honest kimchi that has taught me more than the process of making it, and I guess that is food for thought.


KIMCHI
makes 1 large jar

1 head of Chinese cabbage
10 cups of water
80 grams coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon cane sugar
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 (2 inch) piece of ginger, minced
4 spring onions, sliced
8 tablespoons Korean chili powder (gochugaru)

DIRECTIONS

  • Wash and trim, if necessary, the cabbage. Cut the cabbage in half and then either cut strips of about 2 inches thick, and cut the strips into 1-2 inch pieces OR cut the halved cabbage in thin boats. I like to do a mixture of both. Either way, discard the hard bottom. 
  • In a big bowl, whisk together the water, salt and sugar until completely dissolved. Add in the cabbage. To make sure the cabbage is completely submerged in the brine, place a plate with something heavy on top. 
  • Let stand at room temperature for 5 hours.
  • Meanwhile, mix the chili paste, in another big bowl, by combining the minced garlic and ginger, sliced spring onions and the chili powder.
  • When the cabbage has been soaking for 5 hours, drain and wash thoroughly to remove the salt. Squeeze off excess water and pat dry.
  • Add the cabbage to the chili paste bowl and mix it with your hands. The key here is to really put your elbows into it, mixing and squeezing to make the chili paste get into every nook and cranny.
  • Pack the kimchi into a glass jar and press it down hard to avoid any air (at some in point the process, there will be air pockets formed, but don’t worry – it’s the bacteria doing their job) and make sure that the chili paste rise over the cabbage, so as to seal the mixture. Cover the glass jar and let stand at room temperature for 1-3 days, depending on your climate. It takes me about 2 days, when I start to see bubbles. At that point taste the kimchi for ripeness. It should be crunchy and slightly fermented in taste. Then transfer the glass jar to the fridge. You can eat it right away or let stand undisturbed for 5-10 days for further development in flavor.

It keeps several weeks in the fridge.