I love chutney. I’m not talking the sweet, fruity kind. In fact, for the longest time, I did not know that was a thing (there was no Mrs Balls in my house!). I’m talking about the spicy tomato kind, the one that you whip up on the stove and eat right away. Any South African Indian will know exactly what I am referring to. We have it for breakfast, with eggs, chips and sausages. We lap it up with fresh bread and we create interesting dishes using it as a base.
Basic tomato chutney is made with onions, tomato, aromatics and spices such as masala, turmeric and chilli powder. When I was little, my dad could not eat this, because he had total renal failure. He wasn’t allowed to eat brightly coloured food, like tomatoes, so for years he couldn’t eat one of his favourite meals. When he finally got his kidney transplant, he was ready to have ALL the chutney.
In 2006, we had chutney every Saturday at my house. My dad would make it using different ratios of aromatics, spices and ingredients. Sometimes he would use fresh tomatoes, other times he would use canned tomatoes and he would never record his recipes. He said that this would stem his creativity. The upside was we got something different every week, but if there was a particularly delicious batch, we would never have it again.
I was his faithful sous chef, chopping, making sure the food didn’t burn and learning to cook in the process. There are certain “universal” things that South African Indians add to chutney to make it a more substantial meal. These include boiled eggs, pilchards, dried fish, and (my personal favourite) chops. We enjoyed all of these classic chutney combinations.
But the year of chutney was also the year of experimentation. My dad and I added anything and everything we thought would work with the spicy sauce. Boerewors, bacon bits and spinach worked out beautifully. We also tried adding different sauces to change up the flavour including Worcestershire sauce, chilli sauce and Tabasco sauce.
Adding chicken nuggets, on the other hand, was a big mistake. They lost all their crunch and no one wants soggy chicken nuggets. To be fair, my dad was not in on this one. My cousin Dereshen and I got too ambitious when left to make the chutney by ourselves.
This process taught us to take risks in the kitchen and have fun while doing it. It also taught me how to play with flavours and ingredients, something I apply to my cooking daily. Chutney is still one of my favourite things to make, and like my dad’s, no batch ever tastes the same.