Over my decade-long stint as a home cook, there are several things for which I have made the journey from home-made to store-bought and back full circle to home-made. The sweet and tangy date-tamarind chutney is one of these. It is one of the first things I learned to make from scratch, in Bombay. Once I was running my own kitchen in NYC, bottled store-bought date tamarind chutney had a permanent place in my fridge door. Then in the last couple of years, I was annoyed at buying something that is so simple to make at home, and I'm back to making my own.
This tamarind chutney is a minimalist version calling for, count 'em, all of 4 ingredients: dates, tamarind, jaggery (unrefined sugar) and cumin-coriander powder. OK, salt and water too.
In the recipe below, I have written down approximate quantities for each ingredient but the truth is that dates, tamarind and jaggery are all ingredients with unique personalities. One brand of tamarind may have a different degree of sourness than another brand, and so on. These ingredients are also not easy to measure. Try wrestling nuggets of jaggery into a measuring cup or scooping out exact quantities of sticky tamarind. The solution is to just use approximate quantities of the ingredients and rejoice in the fact that every batch of chutney you make will also have a unique personality.
All the ingredients are available wherever Indian groceries are sold. In the Middle Eastern aisle, I discovered something called "baking dates", which is nothing but pitted dates packed into a rectangular cake and ready to be used as date pulp. It is very convenient to keep on hand and I like using it for this chutney.
The chutney does need to be strained to get rid of the stringy tamarind fibers. I would suggest using a sieve with large pores (like the one below) to avoid spending a frustrating amount of time doing this.
Date Tamarind Chutney
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup soft pitted dates or 1⁄2 pack of pitted baking dates
- 1⁄4 cup jaggery
- 1⁄4 cup tamarind
- Salt to taste
2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Use a spatula or potato masher to press down on the tamarind and dates and extract as much of the pulp as possible. Stir well to dissolve all the ingredients. Taste and add more of tamarind or jaggery or salt to get the sweet/tangy/salty balance you like best.
3. Pass the mixture through a large-pored sieve to remove the fibers. Chutney that is too thick may be difficult to strain so dilute it with filtered water if necessary. Refrigerate.
Pour on anything and everything and pretend you are enjoying chaat from your favorite vendor. I made this chutney specifically for some Aloo Tikki Chana Chaat. It is the North Indian cousin of the ragda patties. I don't know if what follows is a particularly authentic recipe; it is just my way of making it.
Chana for Aloo Tikki Chana Chaat
1. Soak 1.5 cups chickpeas overnight. Rinse them well and pressure cook them until tender.
2. Heat 1 tbsp. oil and fry 2 minced onions until lightly browned.
3. Add the following and saute until fragrant:
- Ginger garlic paste
- Turmeric powder
- Red chilli powder
- Coriander-cumin powder
- Chana masala (chhole masala), the best you can find or make
- Amchur powder
- Salt to taste
4. Add 3-4 chopped tomatoes and fry for a few minutes.
5. Add cooked chickpeas and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes. Mash in some of the chickpeas to thicken the curry.
To assemble the chaat, layer the following in a bowl:
- Aloo tikkis: I make them very simply, nothing but boiled mashed potato and salt (and sometimes bread as a filler) formed into patties and shallow-fried, as shown in this recipe. You can add spices to the tikkis if desired.
- Minced raw onion
- Minced cilantro
- Date tamarind chutney
- Whipped yogurt (optional)
There you have it, chaat that feels like a special treat but packs in plenty of nutrition among the layers of flavor.