So far this month has been all about catching up with friends. Friends new and old, friends who live a few blocks away in Seattle and from as far away as Japan. When we meet, I love cooking for them. I don’t usually have everything ready by the time they arrive. But I do really enjoy chatting while cooking. There is something to be said for catching up on news while chopping vegetables, sipping a glass of wine while waiting for the curry to finish and setting the table together. It sets the stage (or should I say the table!) for a more intimate dinner. Since we have been through the process of cooking something “together”, the meal is that much more special.
I do however, always have an appetizer on hand. Something to munch on while catching up on the latest gossip.
If I’m cooking Indian, papadums are a great appetizer. They are crispy and savory and incredibly easy to prepare. You can buy a pack of them in Indian grocery stores or in the international aisle of many regular grocery stores. Just spread a few out on a plate and heat in the microwave for 1 minute on high. Let them cool for 2-3 minutes and they are ready.
I also like to have a dip that goes along with it. An Indian version of salsa is a great choice made by mixing finely diced onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cilantro, squeezing some lime juice and adding salt to taste. That simple.
The last time I made this, I decided to make a chutney instead. A chutney is an Indian dip or condiment. It was fantastic. Sweet and tangy, smooth and savory. It went perfectly well with the papadums.
Here is the recipe or what I can remember of it. The one bad thing about cooking while talking is that I can never remember the exact steps or how much of each ingredient I used. This is however a very forgiving recipe and you can easily adjust the taste as needed.
1 red onion – dice (roughly 3/4 cup)
1-2 dry red chilis – remove stems and roughly chop
1-2 green chilis – diced (optional for extra heat)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp split black lentils (optional but highly recommended. Also called urud dal)
3-4 tsp vegetable oil
1 lime – squeeze to taste
salt – to taste
Heat the oil in a small saucepan or skillet. If hot enough, a mustard seed will sizzle when dropped in. Add the mustard seeds. When they start crackling, add the black lentils, green and red chilis. Stir (to prevent burning) for about 30 seconds. Add the onion and stir till the oniony smell goes away and the pieces are translucent. Turn off heat, remove from stove. Carefully spoon everything into a blender. Add 1/2 a cup of water (a bit more if necessary) and blend till the mixture is smooth enough that you cannot see individual pieces of onion or red chili. Squeeze the lime juice in and add salt to taste. If it is too spicy for you, add 1/2 a tsp of molasses (or sugar). Blend one last time before serving.
If you have leftover onion chutney, it stores well in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. You can also try using it as a curry base or mixing it up with yoghurt for creamier dip!