In the West, the word chutney invariably refers to a sweet-and-sour jam, the kind usually made out of mango or ginger, or perhaps cranberries.
The word’s origins, unsurprisingly, are Indian—from the hindi chatni, a spelling that you still occasionally see in parts of India.
The ingredients in a chutney vary widely depending on where in the country you find yourself. In the south Indian state of Karnataka, one of the most popular chutneys is a simple mixture of coconut ground together with spices, lentils, and curry leaves. Coconut is such an integral part of the cooking of Karnataka that in many kitchens its proper name, thenginakayi, is abbreviated to just kayi or, simply, “fruit.” You can safely refer to “kayi” and expect people to understand that you’re talking about coconut. Consequently, this chutney is simply referred to as “kayi chutney.” The mixture, which is creamy and rich from the coconut with an underlying heat and tanginess from tamarind, ginger, and green chile, is an ideal accompaniment to idlis, nucchina unde, or even dosas.
It’s common for many chutneys of this variety to include the extra step of an ogaranne, the splash of seasoned hot oil with which many dishes in the south are finished (a flourish that many readers will better know by the names tadka or chaunk). But one of the beauties of this recipe is that it comes together entirely in the blender with no need for a pan or a stove, or anything beyond a willingness to grind a couple of ingredients together for a minute or so.
A note on coconut: Make sure to use the freshest, sweetest coconut you can find. If using frozen coconut, make sure that the strands seem plump with moisture and not desiccated.
A note on tamarind: If you can’t find seedless dried tamarind, feel free to use dried, seeded tamarind, just make sure to soak it in 1/4 cup of boiling water first for at least 10 minutes. Then push the pulp through a strainer making sure no seeds get into your chutney as they will get ground into a gritty mess and make your chutney thoroughly inedible.
A note on storage: The fresh coconut makes this chutney quite perishable. It should keep for a day or two in the fridge, but it really is best eaten fresh.
SERVES 3–4 AS A CONDIMENT
2 cups fresh grated coconut
4 tsp chana dhal
2 branches curry patha, leaves removed from stems
2 tsp dried, seedless tamarind
2–3 small green chiles (or to taste)
1 small piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 small cloves garlic, peeled
Place all the ingredients together in a blender with 1 cup of water. Blend together till the ingredients come together in a smooth cohesive mixture. Add water by the tablespoon if needed. The chutney should be thick but pourable. Season with salt to taste.
Serve at room temperature with dosa, pesarattu, or idli.