This is a versatile and delicious condiment that is at home with an Indian flatbread, a rice pilaf, tortilla chips or grilled chicken or vegetables. Really, you could eat it by the teaspoonful with no accompaniment and feel that life is good. It is served in Indian restaurants as an accompaniment to Dosas (rice crepes) and is apparently a staple in many homes in the southern half of India.
This version is based on an adaptation of a recipe I found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJtE7oEigGY although I made some minor changes to fit what I had on hand and what is easily available. These changes follow the recipe.
2 tbs oil
1 really large onion or 2 or 3 small ones, coarsely chopped.
4 large dried red peppers, torn into large pieces (these can be as hot or mild as you please, see note below)
2 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 tsp minced ginger (optional, not in the original)
1 tsp minced garlic (not in the original recipe)
Large pinch Asafoetida (hing), omit if you don’t have access to it
A few bits of the seedless tamarind or 1/2 tsp of tamarind concentrate (see note below)
1 tsp almond or peanut butter (the original recipe calls for 50 g of cashew nuts or sesame seeds, peanuts or roasted yellow split peas, see notes below)
3/4 tsp brown sugar (original recipe calls for jaggery, see notes)
salt to taste
1. Heat oil in a large cast iron or other skillet.
2. Add the red chile pieces, hing, ginger and garlic to the oil, stir for a few seconds, then add the onions and salt. Continue to saute till the onions pick up a light brown color. The browner the onions, the more complex the chutney will be, but you do not want to crisp the onions.
3. Now add the tomatoes, almond butter and brown sugar and sauté until the tomatoes turn soft.
4. Cool and then blend in a blender or a food process until smooth. You may have to add a few tsp of water to get the consistency you desire. Taste and adjust the salt and sugar.
5. Serve as a condiment or side with rice, flat breads, roasted vegetables or chicken or as a schmear for any sandwich.
Notes on the Special Ingredients and their substitutions:
1. Dried red peppers: The main point here is the color and the flavor and not the heat. The recipe calls for the large and rather mild Kashmiri chillies. Here in the US, it is easy to find dried red peppers used in Mexican cooking. I picked up a bunch at the local grocery store (they are also available at Whole Foods)- these were simply called Mexican Peppers and were pretty hot. If you want a milder pepper, go for the dried Anaheims and discard the seeds. Do not use the Indian, Thai or Chinese small red peppers, they will most likely kill you.
2. Dried tamarind cakes (nearly seedless) are sold in Indian and oriental grocery stores (see image). You have to break off a chunk of the desired size. In this recipe you can dump the chunk directly into the skillet, but for most recipes, you soak in warm water for 15 minutes and rub the tamarind with your hands and strain it to get the pulp. If you are feeling lazy, you can go the tamarind concentrate route (see image of the container). I also see cans of tamarind juice sold in the Mexican section of grocery stores, this work just as well and are probably the best option if available.
3. Jaggery is unrefined sugar sold in lumps at the Indian grocery store. Brown sugar is a fine substitute.
4. I used almond butter instead of the 4 options the original recipe provided. I think the point here is a mellow richness and smoothness to a chutney that can have a very dramatic flavor profile. So I figured that almond butter is a fine substitute for whole cashews or peanuts since they do become butter-ish once they are blended anyway.