Maa’s magic

Chutney‘ pronounced softly as ‘saatoni‘, is an inevitable part of Assamese cuisine. It means to blend different ingredients together to create some unbeatable flavours. And, each flavour varies with the proportion or state of the ingredients used. You will be amazed to see the number of ways you can make chutneys. You can use different herbs. You can make them with the skins of some common vegetables like cucumber, pointed gourd, etc., You can also make them using different types of lentils and nuts, and even fruits.

Summers at home means delectable chutneys on the table every day. Maa would go and pluck some fresh herbs from the garden, like coriander and mint leaves, and prepare a chutney in a ziffy. Then, she would often give a tiny spread on my palm and would ask to check its salt and tanginess. Which is always on point. Summer at home means keep eating the chutneys long after you have finished your meal.

Just a few weeks ago, maa was going on and on about a particular chutney she made with ‘noga tenga and bhoot jolokia and how it was an instant hit among the guests whom she served. Hundreds of miles away I could only imagine what it may have smelt and tasted like.

Yesterday, I remembered that I had some peanuts in the pantry which have been lying there since January. So, I thought I would put them to good use. This peanut chutney is one of maa’s best, and I absolutely love its piquant taste.

Here’s the recipe-

  • Take two handfuls of peanuts and dry roast them on a lightly heated pan. Keep the flame on low or medium. Occasionally, give it a stir, so that they get roasted from all sides. Don’t let it burn. If possible stand there the entire time and let the raw aroma of roasted peanuts take over the kitchen.
  • When they seem done, remove them from the pan and let them cool down.
  • Meanwhile, wash and cut some green chillies and garlic. 3-4 chillies and 4-5 cloves of garlic is adequate.
  • This is the most tedious process. Removing the skins of the peanuts. Why remove? Because, it tastes bitter with the skin on.

There are many ways to do it. Maa likes to dip them into a bowl full of water and washes them vigorously until the skin comes out. It’s a cumbersome process, but she is somehow good at it. I like to roll them dry on my hands. It’s takes a lot of time, but the skin comes out easily. Whichever process you choose, be ready to get your hands dirty. My husband helped me with it yesterday, and now there is peanut’s skins everywhere on the kitchen floor, which he says he would clean the next weekend.

  • Now put the de-skinned peanuts, chillies, and garlic into the blender. Add salt and a pinch of sugar. Roll a lemon and squeeze half of it into the blender, and blend for a few seconds. Then add about 20-30ml of water (put your alcoholic drinks making skills to use!) and blend again until you get the required consistency.

Once it’s done, check for all the flavours. I like mine equally spicy and tangy, with a mild salty and garlicky flavour.

The only difference between Maa’s and my recipe is that her’s chutney’s texture is coarse and not refined, because she uses a hand blender which just takes the taste to a whole new earthy level.

I am always in awe of how food are always the best conversation starters. Yesterday, after making it, when I posted it as a story on Instagram, a friend from London asked me for the recipe and we ended up talking for an hour about different chutneys and their recipes.

The conversation with her took me back to a train journey on which I befriended an elderly woman from Tamil Nadu, who was traveling with her husband. She had packed enough food for the entire 21 hours ride and forced fed me idlis and dosas. One of her chutney was so delicious that I ended up finishing the entire bowl which she offered generously. She spoke only Tamil, so when I asked for the recipe, her husband translated word to word to me in English. By the time I reached home I forgot her exact recipe and ended up creating my own version of it.

It goes something like this-

  • Heat some oil
  • Add black mustard seeds and let it sizzle
  • Add two tomatoes (cut in cubes), 3-4 split green chillies, 4-5 cloves of garlic, and a tiny chunk of ginger, and a little bit of turmeric.
  • When the tomatoes start to melt, add a handful of washed and uncut coriander leaves and curry leaves.
  • Mix them together and add salt as per taste. When the ingredients seem cooked, turn off the heat and let it cool.
  • After a while put all the ingredients into the blender. You need not add water, because it already has oil. Now blend and ta-da, your chutney is ready! Once done, you can squeeze a little bit of lemon for that extra zing!

You can have your chutneys with anything- sandwiches, chips, samosas, rice, naan, anything. A few days ago, we invited our neighbour to celebrate the flattening of the curve in the UK. I made some pakoras and a sweet and sour mint chutney to go with it. He absolutely loved it, and kept asking me for the recipe.

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