Often disparagingly called the Poor Man's Meat, the family of lentils, including peas, lentils and beans, are finally being recognized as the culinary gold that they are. Full of fiber, iron and protein, and low in fat- they are a tasty way to break away from a meat-guzzling diet ( as Mark Bittman calls it) and into one that places a high value on plant-based foods. Legumes are some very selfless and community-minded plants: as they grow, they convert atmospheric nitrogen into "fertilizer" and enrich the soil. Remember the nitrogen cycle from elementary school science class?
I never met a bean or a lentil that I did not love, but my heart belongs to peanuts! Well, those peanuts too, but mainly these:
I grew up in a peanut-growing region of Maharashtra (in fact, a region that grows all sorts of cash crops like sugarcane, cotton, peanuts, tobacco in abundance, and has the prosperity to show for it), so peanuts have always been a big part of my life. In season, when fresh newly-dug peanuts arrive on the market (with dark soil still caked over the shells), it is time for one of life's greatest edible pleasures: boiled peanuts! Peanut oil is the natural choice for a cooking medium. Even today, my mother buys peanut oil straight from a refinery- every few months, she hops in her car with two stainless steel jerry cans, drives to a tiny oil-pressing unit in the heart of town and waits as they fill the cans with still-warm peanut oil. It is sold by the kilogram. The peanut residue, which remains quite nutritious, is pressed into cakes and fed to cattle (who also live in the heart of town with their owners). Only in Kolhapur!
Recently, my love for peanuts was intensified even more when I heard a talk by a local doctor who is doing some incredible work in the African nation of Malawi- he has developed a peanut-based ready-to-eat paste that has shown impressive results in being to rescue severely malnourished children. I admire a lot of things about this Project Peanut Butter, including the fact that locally produced peanuts are being bought to make this nutritious paste, thus helping the local economy while saving tiny lives (the majority of food relief programs rely on surplus cheap grain being shipped in from far away).
Today, I am making a dry peanut chutney, one of a family of dry chutneys that are very popular in Maharashtrian homes. A scoop of flavorful chutney can liven up even the simplest of meals. It is actually very similar to a number of chutneys I have written about before, such as this garlicky one. This one is heavy on the peanuts, but also contains other flavors that I love, such as coconut and sesame and garlic and coriander, in a very everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fashion. I have tweaked the proportions over countless batches to get the taste that I happen to like the most. Use my proportions, or feel free to tweak them to your own taste. I often make this chutney to give as a small gift from my kitchen, and most people who taste it seem to like it.
(Dry Peanut Chutney)
1 C peanuts, roasted lightly and skinned
2 T sesame seeds
2 T unsweetened dry coconut flakes
4-5 dried red chillies (or to taste)
10-15 fresh curry leaves
2 garlic cloves (optional)
1 T coriander seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1-2 t tamarind pulp (not paste) (optional)
2 t sugar (or to taste)
1 t salt (or to taste)
1. Heat a heavy skillet (low-medium heat) and add the peanuts first. When they are lightly browned, add the sesame seeds, coconut, chillies, curry leaves, garlic, coriander and cumin. Keep stirring and roasting until all the ingredient are toasty and fragrant.
2. Let the mixture cool down completely (the curry leaves will be crispy and dry by then). Place in a food processor/ mixie bowl with the tamarind, sugar and salt. Process until the mixture is uniformly powdered. Keep processing until the oil starts to be extracted from the peanuts and the chutney starts to clump together (not until it becomes peanut butter, mind you). Taste for a balance of flavors and adjust them if necessary.
3. Store in an air-tight bottle at room temperature for 3-4 weeks or so. This recipe yields about a medium jar of chutney- perfect for a family of 2-4.
How do you enjoy this chutney? Let me count the ways...
1. Spread on little buttered crackers to make chutney toasts like in the picture above. They make great little snacks!
2. Stir into yogurt for an instant dip.
3. Sprinkle on hot buttered toast for a spicy breakfast treat.
4. Eat as a podi with ghee and rice.
5. Mix with untoasted sesame oil to make a chutney for idlis and dosas.
6. Serve in a little heap as an accompaniment to any home-style meal such as dal and rice, yogurt rice or chapati and vegetables. This is the way it is traditionally served.
And creative readers mentioned other ways of enjoying it
7. Sprinkle on pizza instead of red pepper flakes (Bee)
8. Sprinkle on buttered bread, then toast the bread on a tava (Shankari)
9. Add some yogurt to the chutney and enjoy with poli/chapati//fulkas (Anjali, Manasi)
10. Eat with hot poli/chapati and ghee (Musical)
10. Eat with vada pav (Pooja)
11. Eat with dhokla (Coffee)
12. Use as a masala over shallow fried green chillies (Roshni)
Enjoy your weekend!