Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sweet and Spicy Plum Chutney

My mother is a very talented cook, so it's hardly fair to say that I ever really "discovered" food.  I grew up eating flavorful, healthy meals cooked from quality ingredients, and that's a lot of the reason that I enjoy food and cooking as much as I do today.  Still, I think everyone - myself included - has moments as they grow up where food takes them by surprise.

One of my first surprising moments with food was on a family vacation to Hawaii.  We were going kayaking down a river, and stopped at a roadside stand to get some sandwiches to bring along for lunch.  Until that point, I had never been all that adventurous with sandwiches - that changed with this food stand.  I don't even remember everything that was on the sandwich - I think it was tuna.  What took me by surprise were the side-elements - bean sprouts and a mango chutney.  I'm not sure I had ever had a sprout or a mango before, so I wasn't too sure what I was getting into.  My worries were very quickly allayed.  Somewhere on the shore of a small Hawaiian river, it occurred to me that sandwiches - and their condiments - can be awesome.

More than a decade later, my family still talks about that mango chutney.  I'm tempted to try to recreate it, but I worry that doing so could never do justice to that first taste.  I tried something related, though - a plum chutney.  It's spicy and tangy and sweet and earthy all at once, and has made a great condiment for everything that I've put it on so far.  Best of all, I still have a bunch of it left, so I can look forward to grilling up something else and coating it with spicy plum goodness.

For a somewhat exotic recipe, the ingredients are pretty close to home - most are pantry staples.  Here's what I used: half a dozen ripe plums, one red onion, some brown sugar, some white sugar, apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, ginger root, garlic, whole mustard seeds, salt, and pepper.  Many chutney recipes also feature currants or golden raisins - I opted against for this attempt, but feel free to toss them in if that takes your fancy.

First, chop up all the fresh stuff: the garlic, the red onion, and the plums.  A coarse chop is all you need - everything will reduce in size pretty considerably, so don't worry about big chunks.

If you prefer your ginger minced, peel and chop it at this point, too.  I grated it right into the pot later on with a microplane, and that worked just fine for me.

The cooking process starts by combining the vinegar, brown sugar, and white sugar in a small saucepan.  Whisk together and bring to a quick boil to make sure all of the sugar is dissolved.

Next, keep the heat on, and add everything else to the pot - the chopped plums, garlic, and red onions, the mustard seeds, the cayenne, some grated ginger, and a generous hit of salt and pepper.  It will look like egregiously too much for the little bit of liquid at the bottom, but don't fear - the plums will release plenty of liquid quite quickly as everything comes back to a boil.  As soon as the pan is boiling again, reduce the heat to a steady simmer.

Simmer 30-45 minutes until everything is reduced by 1/3 to 1/2 and has a sticky, syrupy texture.

And that's it!  Serve it up as you see fit - this chutney is surprisingly versatile.  It makes a great condiment for sandwiches, a fantastic glaze for grilled meats, and even a top-notch hot dog topping.  Heck, I'd even be tempted to use it like cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving.  Give it a try, and let me know where it works.

Recipe: Sweet and Spicy Plum Chutney
Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: 45 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 3-4 Cups

  • 6 Ripe Plums
  • 1 medium Red Onion
  • 3/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) Brown Sugar
  • 1/3 cup White Sugar
  • 4 cloves Garlic
  • 2 tsp whole Mustard Seeds
  • 2 tsp Grated Ginger
  • 1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. Coarsely chop red onion, plums, and garlic.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine cider vinegar, brown sugar, and white sugar.  Whisk together and bring to a boil.
  3. Add all other ingredients to saucepan and return to a rapid boil.
  4. Reduce heat to a steady simmer, stirring often, 30-45 minutes until mixture has reduced by 1/3 and texture is syrupy.
  5. Store up to 3 weeks refrigerated or preserve by canning.

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