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The Glue of Indian Cuisine

From chaats to cutlets and sandwiches to samosas, if there’s one thing that can bind these dishes together, it is chutney. Imagine a dish like Paneer Tikka devoid of the company of mint chutney on the side, it just wouldn’t be the same. So you can see why the Indian cuisine would be incomplete without chutney. It induces this element of fulfilment to a dish by either balancing different flavours or by sharpening a particular flavour.

Known to have originated in the Indian subcontinent around 2500 years back, Chutney was introduced as a way to transform and preserve the bountiful harvest of fruits, herbs and different spices into meaningful accompaniments. But the popularity of chutney often reverts back to the invention of chaat. Legend has it that chaat was created in the royal kitchen of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. It is said that during the 16th century when the emperor contracted an illness, the hakims of his court recommended that he consume a spicy dish that was easily digestible. And voila, this led the creation of chaat. Almost every chaat dish needs to be topped with generously scattered dollops of mint and coriander chutney along with random drizzles of sweet-sour date and tamarind chutney. Therefore the 16th century is not only concorded with the invention of chaat but is also credited for highlighting the role of chutney in the Indian cuisine. 

But chutneys popularity doesn’t end here. During 18th-century colonial rule, this concept of making chutneys travelled across several seas with the Britishers. While they expanded the reach of chutney to several countries and different colonies in America and Australia, the version popularised was a British adaptation of Chutney. Since their version of Chutney was intended mainly for the purpose of preservation, different chutneys across these regions witnessed the heavy use of sugar, vinegar and different spices. Thus, the anglicised versions of chutney usually have relish-like consistencies with jam-like sweetness.

On the other hand, it is hard to categorise Indian chutneys under a common theme because each chutney has a specific character that derives its significance from different regions and cuisines of the Indian diaspora. From the Gongura Chutney (made from sorrel leaves) in Andhra Pradesh, Muji (Radish) Chutney of Kashmir to the Hemp seed chutney of the Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, each chutney celebrates different levels of spice, textures and flavour profiles. But if there is one chutney that enjoys the attention of most Indians, it is Hari Chutney (Green Chutney). In India, there is this unspoken acceptance to use the term hari chutney interchangeably to mean coriander chutney, mint chutney or a version that combines the two. It is one of those chutneys that can be found in the kitchen of every Indian household. So here is a quick recipe of my mum’s version of coriander chutney 

Recipe for Coriander Chutney

Yield: 2 cups
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup coriander (dhania), chopped
4 cloves garlic (lehsun)

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp ginger (adrak), chopped
2 small green tomatoes, chopped
6 green chillies, roughly chopped
1 tsp peanuts
Salt to taste

Directions for making Coriander Chutney 

  • Combine all the ingredients and blend in a mixer to a smooth paste. Your chutney is ready!
  • Keep it in the fridge. It lasts for a week.

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Anant Shah

Anant Shah- Founder

Anant Shah (just as his Instagram bio says) has always been interested in connecting people though their different cultures. He is drawn to this goal, given his background of a family of artists, as well as his work at several different organisations such as the People Tree with Orijit Sen, The Conflictorium in Ahmedabad and The UN (AIDS) Communications and Global Advocacy Team in Geneva. As a graduate of History and International relations at Ashoka University, he co-founded and set up the Ashoka Literature festival in 2019. Longing to increase this critical discourse on contemporary and traditional Indian Cultures he finally decided to start InCulture.

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Kartik Sundar loves nothing more than opining on cultural content. An avid writer for many publications, the decision to start one of his own came from recognizing a substantive lack of critical discourse around Indian culture today. He graduated Ashoka University with a degree in History & International Relations and wishes to complete further education with a focus on media and cultural studies.

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We at inCulture are looking to shed light on what we see as an emerging new Indian culture as well as paying dues to the traditions that have been integral in shaping the current space. We want to try and create a space where critical reflection on cultural events, individuals, works of art, or practices can be fostered. Rather than exist as a cultural news outlet that merely serves as a bulletin board for the latest releases, inCulture will look to curate multi-medium pieces that seek to inform readers about aspects of our culture that make you think beyond an immediate reaction. In particular, we strive to look critically at Indian culture by investigating it under four distinct categories – film & theatre, music, spaces, and society.

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