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There is nothing like chutney to tuck beside everything from ham to hamburgers. Many kinds of chutneys exist, as many as there are vegetables and fruits to make them from. To a Southerner, or for that matter anyone who has ever visited the South, the reigning queen of these delicious and various condiments is green tomato chutney.
While it’s possible to spend a lifetime making green tomato chutney without ever repeating a recipe twice, there are a few ingredients common to all green tomato chutneys. The first is green tomatoes, preferably of a slicing type rather than saucing, like those used in Italian dishes, but in a pinch, those can make a good chutney as well. Green tomato chutneys also feature vinegar and some kind of sweetening; sugar is most common, but some cooks swear by everything from honey to maple syrup.
Most green tomato chutney will also contain onions to balance the sweet and sour of vinegar and sweetener. Beyond these basic ingredients, however, chutney takes on the personality of the cook or, at least, can take whatever bits and pieces are in cabinets and the fridge and turn them glorious. Some create their chutneys to match the food they are dressing up, whether it’s grilled chicken, rice and beans, or meatloaf.
What goes into a cook’s specialty chutney also depends upon personal taste. Some cooks and their families insist that tomato chutney should spin the tops off diners’ heads with heat, while others say that chutney’s special charm has to do with layers of sweet brought on by the presence of fresh or dried fruit. Some cooks dress up their chutneys with crystallized ginger, nutmeg, or chili pepper, while others think a green tomato chutney that isn’t wearing minced garlic and cilantro is just a crying out loud shame.
While it’s likely that the first green chutney cooks were just trying to figure out a way to use up end-of-season tomatoes, it has become a deeply loved condiment. Many home gardens contain enough tomato plants to supply both types of jewels, one ruby red for salads and cooking, the other, green as emerald for fried green tomatoes and chutney. Good chutney can be cooked on the stove top in an hour or so and served up hot. Brilliant chutney, however, will be permitted to mingle its delicious layers of flavor while chilling its heels in the fridge for a week or so. For cooks who are partial to putting the gifts of summer up in jars to thaw out midwinter’s cold heart, chutney made of green tomato is the perfect choice.