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Anything edible blended to a paste with chilies, lemon juice / tamarind would taste good seems to be the logic behind chutneys. A variety of bases (column 1) are blended with a variety of souring agents (column 3) and flavoured by various spices (column2) to create an array of chutneys.
It is probably one of the easiest dips to make – just throw everything in a blender and blend to a paste – how much simpler can it get ?
South India is the chutney capital, with a mind boggling array of chutneys. Thuvaiyal, Masiyal, Thayir Pachadi – all belong to the chutney family. Thuvaiyals are made by blending raw / boiled vegetables / roasted pulses with red chili and tamarind. Masiyals / Kotsu are cooked chutneys made by blending boiled vegetables with green chilies and lemon juice. Thayir Pachadis are made by mixing raw / boiled vegetables with seasoned yogurt.
The equivalents of Indian chutneys exist in many cuisines. Many foreign ‘chutneys’ omit the chilies and use vinegar / lemon as a souring agent. Toasted sesame seeds blended with olive oil, lemon and salt give the famous Tahini or Sesame chutney. Mustard when ground to a paste with turmeric, salt and vinegar / wine becomes the delicious mustard dip, so popular in the west. We'd probably call it mustard chutney. If Avacados had been known in India, we'd certainly have had Avacado chutney by pureeing its flesh with salt, chili and lime juice. But now, we only know it as Guacamole. Walnut chutney or Muhammara is made by blending walnuts, chili, garlic, lemon juice, salt and olive oil.
Chutneys can be sweet or sour, spicy or mild, thin or thick, chunky or smooth, cooked or uncooked. They can be made with fruits, salad vegetables, cooked vegetables, roast lentils, nuts or seeds. Mango, apple, pear, tamarind, onions, tomato, raisins, groundnut, chana dal, coconut, garlic, ginger, mint, cilantro, chilies - all are used across the country as a chutney base. This base is usually blended with a souring agent (lemon / tamarind), chilies (fresh green / dry red) and salt into a thick paste. Chutneys traveled with the British to their colonies and to Britain, where they have become increasingly popular. The fresh chutney, with its short shelf life was not ideal for mass production. Hence most supermarket chutneys are now a kind of jam / pickle, being cooked with sugar & vinegar. Fruit chutneys (Mangos, apples, onions, raisins) are simmered with vinegar, sugar, spices and bottled, giving rise to a 'chutney' which is almost never eaten in India, but fill the supermarket shelves abroad. These spicy fruit jams masquerading as chutneys are also popular in the Caribbean, South Africa and in US. Taste a freshly blended coconut chutney / cilantro chutney and you'll see how little effort is needed to create this delicious dip and how much more flavourful they are compared to the packed versions.