You would be hard-pressed to find someone who can resist the defiantly spicy, piquant and tangy chutneys, which are a speciality of Telugu cuisine.
The word ‘chutney’ has been derived from the Hindi word ‘chatni’ which refers to a freshly ground condiment.
In Telugu, these are referred to as ‘pacchadis,’ and these age-old condiments originated in the region, thousands of years ago.
Chutneys (also referred to as dips, sauces, or podi) are a versatile side dish, served as accompaniments with plain rice or as delicious dips for idlis, dosas, rotis, vadas, uttapams and bread. Most of them blend well with rice. However, there are some exceptions. For example, groundnut chutney pairs well with idlis and dosas, but fried gram dal chutney only pairs well with idlis.
Chutneys are incredibly easy to make — the process is quick and hassle-free — and most of these can be prepared within 10 minutes and only require a few common ingredients.
Although most chutneys are in the form of a wet paste, some chutneys are dry, for example, the spice blends or podis.
Invariably, tamarind is used as a souring agent in these chutneys, to give the ever so tempting tangy taste, except for some chutneys like carrot chutney, where lime renders the tartness. Their texture varies, from chunky or coarse to smooth and of thick or runny consistency. During the bygone era, they were ground using mortar and pestle. Nowadays, electric blenders have come to our rescue, easing the labour intensive grinding process and saving time.
In Telugu cuisine chutneys are prepared from various ingredients like coconut, various vegetables like tomatoes, gourds, brinjal, cabbage, leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses and even gram flour.
Based on the ingredients used, some of these chutneys remain fresh for a couple of days (coriander chutney) while some perish within a day.
A majority of these relishes are meant to be freshly made and savoured within a few hours or days. Most chutneys have seasonings, wherein usually, mustard seeds (and other spices) and asafoetida are tempered in oil. This is called ‘tadka’ in Hindi and ‘poppu’ in Telugu.
My journey with pacchadis (chutneys) started when I was a kid, and I loved these piquantly spicy relishes, cooked with love, by my dear mother. My childhood memories of food are filled with a medley of traditional chutneys effortlessly prepared by her, effortlessly, and as an adult, I have truly started appreciating her dishes for their simplicity and versatility.
Now, these healthy, low fat, fibre-rich ‘pacchadis’ are an indispensable part of my menu when I lay the table for my family. Most traditional chutneys do not use onion or garlic and are thus suitable even when one observes a fast.
Why do I love chutneys, and why should you try these recipes? Here are some reasons!
1. The recipes are uncomplicated and easy to prepare.
2. You (mostly) do not need to plan ahead, and they can be made even with basic available ingredients in a matter of minutes.
3. I’ve mentioned this before. Chutneys are a perfect medley and balance of tastes: spicy, tangy, sometimes bitter or sweet, and perk up your everyday meal.
6. Chutneys are incredibly versatile!
7. They are healthy, low fat, fibre rich, and easy to digest.
There are various versions of this culinary delight, and each one is mouth-wateringly tasty and hard to resist. Savoring them is indeed a soulful experience!
(This article has been written by Aparna Mudiganti Parinam, and is an excerpt from her book, ‘Chutneys: Adding Spice to your Life!’)