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Date chutney has a myriad of uses and will simultaneously satisfy the hankering for something a little sweet and something a little sour. Date chutney, like all chutneys, is a savory condiment served alongside main dishes, as an accompaniment to a cheese plate, or as a sandwich spread. What makes this chutney unique is that the foundation is made from cooked dates, which lends a deep, rich, and moist background against which other flavors can blossom.
Chutney, which many culinary historians trace to Indian roots, makes crispy fried treats like samosas or fried green tomatoes sing. Home cooks can create the simplest date chutney that remembers its ancestry by cooking chopped dates together with honey, sugar, or other sweetener and water, then adding Indian curry spices, such as garam masala and roasted cumin seeds, as well as some minced ginger. For those who want to put a unique stamp on a batch of chutney, some chopped raisins, dried cranberries, or other dried fruit will add another flavor dimension, as will a splash of fruit-flavored vinegar or some slivered almonds.
A wonderfully Southern twist can transform this chutney by adding rhubarb and red onions. Walnuts can replace the almonds, and other fruits such as pineapple, orange, or mango will only add to the fun. For those who like it hot, chipotle or other hot pepper or a dash or two of a favorite Jamaican hot sauce can jump in the mix. Roasted, peeled red pepper slices add a ruby red gloss, and some yellow corn kernels will supply a nice crunch to the texture.
While date chutney supports a myriad of secondary flavors, a clever home cook will experiment to decide which of the many choices marry well. High notes that echo above date’s deep, earthy bass are pleasing, but a mixture that’s mad with variety will only result in clash and chaos. Allowing two or three flavors to dominate is the key; other tastes should appear subtly, almost like a perfume or an afterthought on the palate.
Home cooks should remember that, like all good relationships, the best chutney takes time to develop. Cooking the combination into a thick jam is the first step; the next step takes a long time but very little effort. In order to reach its ultimate potential, date chutney needs to go through a honeymoon period where it’s sealed into jars and tucked away into the pantry for a month or two, while all its flavors can cuddle together and whisper their sweet-and-sour secrets. While it might be tempting to open the jar too soon, the wise cook will remember that anticipation only sweetens the appetite.