Put that mango chutney back in the cupboard. The new trend is crossover chutneys -- blends of Indian spices and Western ingredients that are as good with steak sandwiches and grilled chicken as with pappadums and pakoras.
At the forefront is Neela Paniz of Bombay Cafe in West Los Angeles, whose previous restaurant was called Chutneys because she was into chutney even then.
She noticed how updates of Mexican salsas had caught on in mainstream cuisine and decided that chutneys, with their similar combinations of fruits, vegetables, chiles and spices, could cross over too.
Paniz experiments with ingredient combinations never imagined in traditional Indian cuisine. Now she’s selling bottled chutneys at the cafe and over the Internet. “Most of them are created chutneys,” she says. “I make them inherently Indian by using Indian spices.”
Her cranberry and green apple chutney, terrific with turkey sausage, is seasoned with nigella seeds, known in India as kalonji, along with ginger, cinnamon, cloves and hot chiles. It’s worlds apart from the usual cranberry sauce.
Paniz also makes an appetizer chutney that blends peanuts, cilantro and garlic with serrano chiles. You could serve that one with tortilla chips. Fruity, sweet chutneys evolved in India to please the Western palate, and Paniz obliges with an apricot chutney and another that blends pear, cherry and ginger. “The English wanted food spicy and hot, but they also wanted something sweet with it,” she says.
Avinash Kapoor, chef-owner of the Akbar Cuisine of India restaurants, makes a sweet chutney with dried plums. At a Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars dinner, Kapoor paired his chutney with lamb pockets -- bite-sized fried pastries stuffed with spiced minced lamb -- accompanied by a Sauvignon Blanc. Spicy with fresh ginger, the chutney also accompanies Kapoor’s tandoori duck, seasoned with a marinade that incorporates the chutney. Use it to liven up grilled chicken dishes.
There’s no stopping Sanjay Kumar, chef at Tantra in Silver Lake, when it comes to creating chutneys. He makes at least seven for the restaurant, including a creamy golden saffron chutney, a garlic chutney and a fiery red chile mixture smoothed out with yogurt and mayonnaise.
Although it’s intended as a table condiment, Kumar’s basil and mint chutney is terrific tossed with pasta. The pesto-like chutney may sound Westernized, but it’s not. Basil is common in India, Kumar points out. Known as tulsi, it is revered in Hindu homes and temples.
In Northern California, a sandwich “with everything” at Amelia’s Deli/Bistro and Catering in Pleasanton, includes a thin, green layer of, you guessed it, chutney. “It’s the chutney my mother made when we were young,” says co-owner Annabelle Rodrigues. That makes it authentically Indian, because the family is from Goa, on India’s west coast.
One of the easiest chutneys to make, it requires no exotic ingredients, just cilantro, golden raisins, serrano chiles, onion and lemon juice.
It’s light and sweet, just what you’ll need when you want to turn an ordinary sandwich into something memorable.