Whenever I visit my fridge these days, I'm faced with a bowl of freshly made coconutchutney. Off white in colour, thick but consistent, grainy in its own right and blessed with crisp curry leaves, mustard seeds and whole red chillies, it's probably one of the only reasons I'm compelled to eat either idli or dosafew times a week.
Eating South Indian food without coconut chutney is as objectionable as eating bread without butter. It certainly loses much of it's appeal. Coconut chutney is really easy to make and tastes remarkably better than any other market-bought chutney or sauce. I use it in any way I can - with dosas, idli, vegetables and even wholewheat crackers.
Growing up in Delhi the only kind of coconut chutney I'd had was the one made with dal but when I went to Manipal to pursue my graduation I was confronted by what seemed like a hurried approach to chutney, which resulted in part water, part pulp and inconsistent. But after some time passed I came to realise that in large parts of Karnataka, coconut chutney is traditionally watery. It glorifies coconut and complements crispy hot masala dosa in a way that the kind I ate never did. I could use it in any way possible - with dosas, idli, vegetables and even wholewheat crackers.
Pawan Jambagi, owner of Carnatic Cafe in New Delhi says "Different states in the South have different kinds of coconut chutney. The kind you get in Andhra will be spicy and slightly red in colour while that in Kerala is usually made using salt water. Most people prefer the slightly watery avatar as it goes really well with most South Indian dishes."
Since this is a coconut chutney, let's star with coconuts. I can't stress enough on the quality of coconuts that need to be used while making chutney. They need to be plump and fleshy, sharp white and almost buttery. Just slide your finger across a freshly sliced coconut and you'll know. The other ingredients you want to keep in in handy are urad dal/bengal gram, freshly plucked or died curry leaves, mustard seeds, ginger and salt.
It's amazing how something so simple can taste so great! And the fact that it's so simple also means that there's much room for experimentation. Thomas Fenn, the owner of Mahabelly, a South Indian restaurant in New Delhi validates this fact "You can add many new flavours to coconut chutney. Flat-leaf coriander which is a type of coriander with tiny thorns works really well. So do shallots, bird's eye chilli (aka Kandhari chilli which are tiny but really fiery) and even muskmelon.
New flavors that could be added to the usual coconut chutney would be peanuts, mint, garlic or red chillies. He also said that different regions have different kinds of coconut chutney. Mostly depends on the tastebud of that particular state. For example : Andhra would have really spicy coconut chutney. Kerala has the usual white coconut chutney made of saltwater. Most people prefer to eat the watery coconut chutney as it is a good accompaniment with most South Indian dishes.
There's no definitive recipe for the perfect coconut chutney. Sure, the regular chutney made using grated coconut, curry leaves, tempered mustard seeds and water is delicious, but you'd be surprised what a few little tweaks could do. You just need to find a recipe that works for you. And on that note, here are some of my favourite ones:
1. Mango Coconut Chutney
Recipe by Mahabelly
Method:Grind all the ingredients till it gets a paste like texture. Preferably do not add any water during the grinding process. The moisture in the mango and coconut is ample.
2. Shrimp Coconut Chutney
Recipe by Mahabelly
Ingredients:3/4 cup of Dried Shrimp
1 Cup of Grated Coconut
3 larged roasted and crushed Red Chilli (remove seeds)
4 sliced Shallots
1/2 tsp of Ginger
3-4 Curry Leaves
Salt to season
Coconut OilMethod:1. Dry roast the shrimp on a low flame for about 5 mins. Set aside.
2. Fry the shallots and red chillies in oil for a couple of mins. Add the grated coconut and continue roasting (do not brown, only let the water from the coconut run out). Set aside.
3. Combine the shrimps, heated coconut mixture with the rest of the ingredients in a stone mortar and pound till powdered well.
4. Coriander Coconut Chutney
Recipe by Niru Gupta
A refreshing chutney made with coconut and coriander. For the recipe, click here.