A 12 year old jaipuri handpainted ceramic mason jar from the remotest corner of the highest shelf on my kitchen cabinet plunged to death yesterday! As I was brooming the pieces to safety, my son came to give me a helping hand. Allured by the colourful though broken pieces of a decade-old jar from my collectives, he asked what it was for. “It is a chutney jar”, I replied. His matter-of-factly response struck an old chord in me: “Why don’t you make chutneys?”
There are atleast 2 chutney jars in every Indian's house: one for that ingeneous spicy-tangy dip on-the-go and the other to soothe our sweet tooth. We are dysfunctional without chutneys and pickles. While pickles are high in oil and salt content and have to be consumed in extremely limited quantities, chutneys have an advantage of liberally occupying a large segment of our plates. I would confess that just typing this blog piece is hyper-activating my salivary glands and that is the power of these succulent preparations, which have anointed our culinary existence for umpteen number of years across all parts of India. Be it the good old south Indian breakfast idlis and dosas, or the effervescent parathas, mid day cravings or your favourite kabaabs, no time to cook up a dish to go with your rotis, or a lazy Sunday eve snacking, chutneys are always to your rescue!
When versatility and health tie the knot!
The most striking part of these lip-smacking delicacies is that they don’t come with standard recipes! The ingredients and preparation can be twisted from one kind to the other based on preferences and type of meals they are to go along with. But it is not all about the taste buds that chutneys talk about. They can be extremely healthy additions to our daily diet. Extremely low on refined carbs or saturated fats, and blended with a cheerful spectrum of spices, chutneys are unarguably by far the yummiest creations emerging from our kitchen counters! Certain key elements of chutneys existing from ages, like coriander, curry leaves, mint, methi, asafoetida, tomato, onion, garlic, tamarind, mango, indian gooseberries (amla), caraway or ajwain leaves, coconut, peanuts and roasted gram are bundles of nutritive goodness. To complement these classics, vegetables like carrots, beetroots and capsicum, to name just a few, have also crept into the ambrosial world of chutneys to carve their niches! Incorporation of green leaves renders chutneys abundant in chlorophyll and antioxidants. Coriander, mint, fenugreek and curry leaves are rich source of vitamins, iron, folic acid and essential minerals and since there are not cooked their nutritive value is also kept intact. The digestive benefits of gooseberries, asafetida, ajwain, tamarind and methi, good fats from coconut and peanuts, complex carbs from grams and other legumes, antimicrobial property of garlic, onion and ginger and the numerous benefits of spices added into them make chutneys win hands down! All rolled in one, with super-satisfied buds and super-soothed bowels, what more can one ask for!
But as every good thing in life comes with a disclaimer, our dear chutneys also carry a caveat: The salty and sugary struggle! We need to be extremely judicious with the quantity of these two flavours we give to chutneys. We usually undermine and overdo this aspect. Overenthusiasm often makes us add that extra spoon of salt and consume too much of those sweet chutneys, both being wickedly disastrous for our health! A slightly wiser option to exercise would be using a few dates for sweetening instead of sugar and perhaps a sprinkle of rock salt or black salt to get those extra minerals (although the sodium chloride level is same in all types of salts). Nevertheless, stay moderate with the salt while preparing, and minimal with the sweet one while eating.
What makes our soul cry out for chutneys?
Our meals are incomplete without something tangy and spicy hitting our palates. The craving for tang, sour and spice is as natural as call of nature and just the sight of chutney gets our saliva inundating our oral cavity! Ever wondered why? Ivan Pavlov’s dog gave us all our answers long time back! Our salivary glands get into action with not just the taste (unconditioned response) but even with the sight of sour and spicy delectables (unconditioned response). This Pavlovian or classical conditioning mechanism ensures provision of sufficient saliva to dilute the extremity of the flavour as well as to aid in bolus formation and digestion. Little did we know that there existed, such a profound connection between unflinching love for chutneys and our 8th standard science chapter!
Already noon? As I drool away to concluding this chutney chant, time to put the chutney jar on to the mixer and churn out some tantalizing savory to oomph up your luncheon!
Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.