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Chutney is a varied condiment certain to be found on the dining table of Indian and Southeast Asian cuisine. There are hundreds of different preparations, regional specialties, and recipes handed down through family generations. In its most common form, chutney can be described as a freshly made savory jam. Popular across the south-central agricultural belt of the Indian subcontinent, from coast to coast, is a variety consumed throughout the day: peanut chutney.
The typical chutney includes a fruit, such as unripe mangoes, cooked with a sweetener, such as honey. Onion and garlic are aromatic vegetables usually in the mix. It is often spiced with curries, ginger, and hot chili peppers. Coriander and mint are frequently added herbs. The mixture can be left chunky, but is more commonly ground in a mortar with pestle or pureed in an electric blender to the consistency of jam or paste.
Chutney can be savory or sweet, and is often both. Spicy chutneys, especially popular, add sharp flavor to otherwise bland vegetarian staples such as rice, beans and bread. Their intense flavors also hold up when accompanied with other strong tasting food such as grilled or braised meats.
Called shengdana chutni in the Indian state of Maharashtra, which includes the country’s most populous city, Mumbai, peanut chutney is usually a mostly dry preparation. Legumes, such as peanuts, peas and other beans, are a meat substitute in vegetarian diets and a common ingredient in chutneys. Peanuts are low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in iron and proteins. Similar preparations elsewhere in India go by different names and are collectively also referred as “groundnut chutney.”
The raw, shelled peanuts are first dry-roasted, then dry-cooked briefly with additional ingredients, such as sesame and coriander seeds, chopped garlic and chili pepper, powdered cumin and curry spice. The mixture is allowed to cool, and then pulsed in a blender or food processor with salt, black pepper, sugar, and some acid such as vinegar or the sour fruit called tamarind. As the peanuts break apart and release their oils, the mixture becomes a clumpy, slightly wet and coarse powder.
Peanut chutney, like most other types of chutney, is not a preserve. More like a fresh salsa, chutneys are improvisational condiments made with market produce and pantry supplies for just one meal, one day or one week’s use. Stored in an airtight jar, peanut chutney should last at least three weeks in a refrigerator.
Traditionally, peanut chutney is consumed in myriad ways. Like its western butter counterpart, it is spread on breakfast toast or snack crackers. A dollop dresses and flavors a plate of rice or vegetables. It is a popular filling for unleavened chapati bread or rice flour dosa crepes. Stirred into plain yogurt, peanut chutney makes a healthy dessert.