One of the best things about coming home after school in southern India was the array of amazing snacks my mother made for me on different days: green chutney and tomato chutney tea sandwiches; crudités of seasonal vegetables with a tangy yogurt dip; a crunchy salad with fried goodies, potatoes and onions, dressed with a lovely cilantro chutney; chapati flatbreads rolled in cheese and a sweet and tangy relish.
After I grew up and moved several thousand miles away, my method of shunning loneliness and banishing a homesick feeling was to throw together a quick chutney or relish and use it as a dip with pita, tortilla chips or some store-bought baby-cut carrots and celery sticks. It would sometimes morph into a spread for a grilled cheese sandwich or become the topping for a mix of chopped veggies. Occasionally I would spread the chutney on a chapati or tortilla, throw in some vegetables and cheese and make a wrap out of it. It would make a fabulous accompaniment for those quiet times when I just wanted to look through photo books or read old letters and cards.
Gradually, those chutneys (a blended texture) and relishes (distinct textures) evolved. I started playing around with different combinations of the main ingredients alongside what was available locally and seasonally. My yogurt-based raita contained avocado, an uncommon ingredient in the Indian dishes of my youth, or a combination of red onion, carrot and jalapeño.
During graduate school days, I used whichever ingredient was the cheapest. As a young wife and a new employee, I paired my chutneys with interesting flavors, herbs and spices that were local to the area I lived in. As a mom, I introduced flavors such as mango and pineapple that I knew my children would love.
Over the years, the chutneys and relishes that have become go-to favorites have had common characteristics in spice and tang. I like the artisanal look of them, which is to say they rarely come off as manufactured, gooey or saucy. The little surprises — a seed here and a chunk there — charm and tingle the taste buds.
Many of them are better when made ahead of time. Some of them sit well in a refrigerator for up to three days. I even freeze some of the blended chutneys in small condiment jars for a couple of weeks and defrost them just before serving. Any which way, they add color and pizazz to the table.
The accompanying recipes are some of my family’s favorites. Their flavors are intense and bold. They are a fabulous accompaniment to grilled vegetables and proteins. Try tossing a potato salad or sweet potato salad with one of these chutneys. Use the relish as a topping for burgers and sandwiches.
Another simple way of serving them during the summer, besides those mentioned above, is to toast some herby flatbread and top it with fresh greens, grilled veggies and tofu, then garnish with your chutney or relish of choice. That’s a perfect wrap.