During one of our first conversations about food, a friend from France who I met recently during a program on gastronomy asked me about recipes for chutney. India is of course identified as a country known for chutney, something that I was specifically reminded of along with the conversation with my friend when I visited Pays Basque in the southwestern corner of France.
From road signs, and house names, to menu cards, the Basque language looks and sounds very different from the French that is spoken in France. The same can be said of the Basque cuisine as well. Referred to as piment d’Espelette in French, the locally grown red-chilli pepper from the Esplette region of Basque has protected designation of origin status. The red chilli powder finds itself flavoring soups, foie-gras, and thick purées that look like chutneys (occasionally accompanied by the younger greener version of the chilli pepper as condiment).
Below is a method for preparing a South Indian chutney that uses red-chilli peppers.
-Tomatoes and onions (about 2-3 parts tomatoes to one part onion)
-Red chilli peppers (add to taste depending on type of red chilli; seeds maybe removed to reduce heat while retaining the chilli flavor of the skin)
-Small piece of fresh ginger (or a few cloves of garlic depending on preference)
- Asafoetida (optional to season oil)
-Split black gram or black lentils (optional to season oil)
-Tamarind extract or lemon juice (optional)
Blanch tomatoes, remove skin and seeds, and then chop into small pieces. Dice onions and slice ginger. Sauté the onions and ginger in some oil, add tomatoes, salt and continue to sauté for a few more minutes. In a separate pan, heat some oil, and season with a few pinches of mustard seeds and red-chilli peppers. When the mustard seeds start to splutter, transfer the seasoned oil to the tomato-onion mixture. Mix, and extract the flavor of the red-chilli peppers and ginger into the tomatoes and onions using a stone-on-stone grinder or mortar and pestle. Using a blender or food-processor also works though the extraction of flavor is different. The tamarind extract or lemon juice can be added if required to adjust flavor.
The traditional Basque houses that have a white-washed exterior with a red-trim, during the season, in keeping with the color theme, hang elaborate arrays of the local red-chilli peppers on the south-facing side to dry1. Also during the season, in the town of Espelette, at Mass, the locals are given a blessing with a string of dried red-peppers1.
1. The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky