I read somewhere recently that Ina Garten hates cilantro. My heart broke a little when I read that, partly because I absolutely adore her—her cool, unflappable, authentic, just-throwing-this-mindblowingly-irresistable-dish-together style and simple yet elegant recipes—and partly because I grew up in a cilantro-obsessed family. My father, to date, needs to see those familiar green flecks garnishing his daily meal of dal and vegetables—and he’s not the only one. Having grown up in India, cilantro hatred is a wholly new phenomenon for me, as it’s such an essential part of the cuisine (and culture).
So, Ina, this is for you—a dish that maybe, just maybe, will make you a cilantro lover: a spicy, garlicky, tart, nutty, cilantro chutney, whose bright, bold flavors may very well drown out the soapy taste some associate with the herb. It’s convinced some friends, so here’s hoping!
Chutney is a condiment of Indian origin, generally made with fresh, in-season ingredients and meant for immediate consumption. Because chutneys are a condiment, and meant to augment the flavor of the dishes they pair with, they can be spicy, sour, pungent, sweet, or a delightful mixture of all these. The most ubiquitous of chutneys throughout India, despite its mind-boggling culinary diversity, is a chutney made of cilantro. It is made in homes; sold on handcarts, street-side; served in fine-dining and fast-food restaurants as an accompaniment to fried treats, like bhajjia (also known as pakoras, or fritters); and as a part of popular snacks like sandwiches and chaat (a catch-all term for a specific category of savory street food). In the US, you might see it served alongside samosas.
Cilantro chutney is easy to make, with flexible ingredients, a modular recipe, and a method that just involves blending together the ingredients. Start by adding to a blender 1 bunch of cilantro (use the stems, too, discarding only the hard bottoms), 1 large garlic clove, 1-3 thai chile peppers, 5 teaspoons of lime juice, and a handful of raw, unsalted peanuts, with a few tablespoons of water to facilitate blending. Grind until the chutney is smooth and creamy. Store the chutney in a covered container in the fridge, and it easily lasts for a week to ten days.
As long as you have a heat source (peppers) and some acid (usually, lime or lemons), you can pretty much customize the recipe any way you want. Replace half the cilantro with mint, if you wish. Get rid of cilantro completely and replace it with parsley or basil. Throw red onions, scallions, ginger, garlic, and grated coconut in the mix. While I like using raw peanuts to thicken the chutney and give it a creamy consistency, almonds or pepitas make a fine replacement.
And because it is such a versatile flavor booster and has a phenomenal crossover appeal, I always have cilantro chutney in my refrigerator—it’s a trusty foot soldier that comes to my rescue in any number of meals. Here are some of my favorite ways to use it!
start the day right
Savory Oatmeal: To prepared oatmeal, add plain or Greek yogurt and a teaspoon of cilantro chutney. Top with pumpkin seeds, salted peanuts, toasted chickpeas—anything crunchy you have. Some leftover roasted vegetables are fair game, too.
Bagel & Schmear: Mix cream cheese and cilantro chutney and slather on a toasted bagel. Add thinly sliced tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, and Alfalfa sprouts to turn it into a bagel sandwich.
Lavash Wrap: Slather cream cheese on a lavash wrap, followed by a layer of cilantro chutney. Add greens of your choice, thinly sliced red onion, and pieces of avocado. Add salt and pepper to taste, and finish with a sprinkling of crumbled feta cheese. Roll tight from the edges and cut the roll into two. Go crazy with toppings here:slices of roasted red pepper, olives, pickled mushrooms, scallions, cucumbers, and even roasted tofu.
Paneer Pizza: Top homemade or store-bought pizza dough with a thin layer of tomato sauce and a layer of cilantro chutney on top of that. Roast one-inch cubes of paneer for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, and arrange on the pizza dough, along with red onions, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and, darn it, cilantro.
Vegetable Grain Bowl: Combine cooked quinoa and black beans in a bowl. Top with sauteed or roasted vegetables likes zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers, and red onions. In a separate bowl, mix plain yogurt and cilantro chutney in a 2:1 proportion, adding water to thin, if desired. Pour over the bowl to your heart’s content (you can also serve this cilantro-yogurt sauce as a dip for fritters or crudité).
Baked Potato: Dollop some cilantro chutney, along with sour cream, on a baked potato.
Rice Krispies Bhel Puri: Mix a cup of Rice Krispies with half a cup of diced tomatoes, a quarter cup of diced red onions, and 1 tablespoon of cilantro chutney. Add finely minced green chile peppers to add some heat. And if you get hold of an unripe, green mango, peel and dice it into half-inch cubes to add to the dish—you’ll be happy you did.
Potato Pizza: On this gluten-free pizza, which uses super-thin slices of potato as the base, cilantro chutney functions as the sauce; it’s topped with sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and arugula.
Crackers and Chutney: Serve cilantro chutney alongside your favorite cheeses and crackers.
To Marinade Vegetables: Make a marinade of cilantro chutney, orange juice, and olive oil in a 1:2:3 proportion. Cut up one-inch chunks of zucchini, red onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and paneer or tofu, and marinate for 30 minutes before skewering and grilling.
Vegetable Sandwich: An immensely popular street food in Mumbai, this sandwich is a mountain of vegetables with an electric undercurrent of cilantro chutney. Bread just happens to be the vehicle for the goodies inside. The recipe above has cucumber, tomato, potato, beet, onion, and cheese; but anything goes.
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