Sunday, May 06, 2007

O is for Onion Chutney

The myriad cuisines of India all love their vegetables! Veggies are diced and sliced, grated and mashed, stir-fried and curried into hundreds of vegetable dishes. In this series, the A to Z of Indian Vegetables, we take an alphabetical journey through the various avatars of vegetables relished in Indian cuisine. For each letter, we will make a tasty vegetable dish that illustrates one manner in which vegetables are savored in India.

Before we start this round up, a brief announcement: In two weeks, we will come to the Q of Indian vegetables. Now, Q is a very challenging letter, so I have built in a loophole. Q is for Quick, so recipes with the prefix "quick" will be welcomed as entries. If you have a favorite quick Indian/ Indian-inspired recipe involving vegetables, please do consider participating. Do you *have* to send in "Q for quick" entries? Absolutely not! If you want to get creative and make other Q recipes or use other Q words, please do so, I would love to see what else you awesome bloggers can come up with.

The "O" of Indian Vegetables

The letter O inspired twenty-two outstanding Indian flavors!

Let's start with three O vegetables. They have a reputation for being pungent, bland and slimy, respectively. Can you name these veggies?

The first vegetable is an important pantry staple: the Onion. Layers and layers of pungent flavor nestled inside a papery skin, the onion finds its way into a majority of Indian dishes. Once cooked, it mellows down and sweetly allows the other flavors in the dish to take over. Here, the onion is celebrated as a vegetable in its own right, with five delectable dishes. What's a good meal without some savory appetizers? We start with some onion-based snacks...

Most traditional South Indian kitchens always keep a rice-and-urad-dal-batter on hand, to make idlis (steamed cakes) and dosas (thin crispy crepes) at a moment's notice. The leftover, slightly over-fermented, sour batter is never wasted, instead it is flavored and used to make thin pancakes called "uttapams". Sukanya of Hot n' Sweet Bowl stirs grated onion and chilies into the batter to flavor it, then makes uttapams sprinkled with shredded carrot, corn and peas, resulting in these colorful and tempting Onion Uthappams.

Deepa of Recipes n' More gives us another version of this breakfast/ tea-time snack. She uses her onion-chili-batter to turn out some crispy golden-brown, adorable little Mini Onion Uttapams, and proceeds to serve them with a delicious chayote squash chutney.

Sreelu of Sreelu's Tasty Travels takes a trip down memory lane to her beach-side home in the city of Visakapatanam/ Vizag. She reminisces about the spicy snacks sold by vendors on the beach and goes on to make a gorgeous recreation of one of these snacks: Stuffed Bajjis with Onion Masala. I'm warning will want to reach into the screen and grab one of these fritters!

After snacking, let's move on to some main dishes featuring the onion. Asha of Aroma/ Foodie's Hope creates a delightful platter of Onion Lentil Chutney, sauteed red onion cooked with a coarse paste of chana dal for an unusual side dish.

Pavani of Cook's Hideout shares a basic recipe for Onion Rice, made by combining cooked rice with some golden, caramelized onions. I can just imagine how aromatic this is, and this basic recipe could be modified in so many ways to make creative pilafs of all kinds.

The next vegetable is the pale green, sturdy Opo Squash. What is this, some exotic vegetable? Actually, opo squash is just another name for the vegetable better known to most of us as bottle gourd/ doodhi/ lauki/ ghiya (Really, how many aliases does this vegetable have?). As a conseqence of its rather bland and watery taste, the poor opo squash is not considered very glamorous. However, these very qualities make it a versatile vegetable. Here are two ways to cook the opo squash, one from Southern India and the other from Northern India:

Sheela of Delectable Victuals takes the basic recipe for a Tamilian specialty, a buttermilk-based stew, and makes it even more interesting and tasty with the addition of opo squash and carrots, resulting in this delicate Opo Squash Mor Kozhambu.

And now we travel North to the state of Punjab, where Musical of Musical's Kitchen explains that "lachha" means "grated stuff". Here, grated opo squash gets sauteed with onions, and tomatoes and a few select spices, and what you get is this Opo Squash Lachha, a great accompaniment to any meal.

The next vegetable is the subject of strong mixed emotions: it is loved and adored by some, and detested and shunned by others. Yes, it is the Okra: the tapering green beauty, with the slime, oh the slime! Well, I am firmly on the side of okra lovers, and fervently thank the next three bloggers for representing my beloved okra in this round-up.

A Cook of Live to Cook says, very wisely, that, "The challenge of cooking is presenting the dishes in such a way that even the dislikes are turned into likings". She proceeds to elevate the status of okra in her household with a very creative, and completely delicious Okra Dosa, made with a wholesome batter of okra, coconut, spices and brown rice.

Suma of Veggie Platter shares her husband's tasty recipe for Okra Dal, combining the flavor of okra (convenient frozen okra, at that!) with the goodness of dal, with an aromatic tempering to pull the flavors together.

The third okra dish is made in classic North Indian style, and is perennially popular on Indian restaurant menus. Many of my non-Indian friends say that the "okra masala" from Indian restaurants was the first time they found okra palatable. Rinku of Cooking in Westchester provides an easy recipe for recreating the classic Okra Masala in your very own kitchen, with a great tip for broiling the okra to get it crispy and perfect.

Next, an O fruit with a difference, the savory, unctuous Olive!
TC of The Cooker combats wet and rainy weather with a tasty treat, making a gorgeous Olive-Onion Naan made with whole-wheat flour and freshly baked on a pizza stone. Also, check the post for a bonus appetizer recipe for little olive bites.

Then comes a most unusual O plant: the Obedience Plant! I really need to find this plant and feed it to our wayward pooch :) ! Actually the roots of the perennial obedience plant are the source of the starchy arrowroot powder. A Cook of Live to Cook tells us some great tips for using arrowroot and then creatively adds arrowroot powder in place of eggs to turn out some beautiful Arrowroot Crepes.

We now come to an important O grain, none other than Oats! Oats, and their processed product, Oatmeal, have long been part of the diet in some cultures, and increasingly, the health benefits of oatmeal are making this cereal more and more popular with everyone. We all know about oats for breakfast, but how about oats for dinner and oats for dessert?

Nandita of Saffron Trail shows us that a quick convenience dinner need not be an unhealthy one. She cooks oats with an aromatic tempering and a selection of colorful vegetables to make an appetizing, steaming-hot bowl of Oats for Dinner.

Mahek of Love 4 Cooking takes her husband's suggestion of trying out some "oatmeal for O" and makes her very first batch of delicious and nutritious Oatmeal Squares, a sweet treat eagerly shared by her son and his friends!

The next dish is a brunch favorite, the Omelette. Omelettes are often one of the first dishes that a budding cook learns to make, and once you know how to make a good omelette, the possibilities for playing around with it can provide endless fun. Swapna of Swad recreates a omelette from a popular breakfast restaurant. Golden-brown, stuffed to the gills with vibrant veggies and cheese, her Omelette with Veggies looks like the perfect way to start off a leisurely weekend.

Next, an unusual category, O kitchen equipment...the Oven! Unlike kitchens in the US, where an oven is considered indispensable, kitchens in India specialize in stove-top cooking and an oven is often an accessory. Nevertheless, if one has an oven at home, it does open up many possibilities for delicious outcomes. To give just one example, Manasi of A Cook At Heart dips thick eggplant slices into a mayo-and-cheese mixture, then dredges them in bread crumbs and bakes them into this tempting Oven-baked Eggplant.

Coming to some specialty dishes from different regions of India...

Oola is the Marathi term for "wet" or "fresh" in the case of vegetables (which is to say, as opposed to dry, preserved vegetables). Aarti of Aarti's Corner brings out the sweet flavor of the "oola watana" or fresh peas in a classic coconut-based curry called Oolya Watanyachi Usal.

Odachakadalai is the Tamil term for dalia dal. Ayesha of Experimenting on Taste Buds grinds the nutty dalia to an aromatic paste with spices, then uses it to make a tasty gravy that anoints roasted corn on the cob. The result is this mouth-watering Odachakadalai Corn Masala.

Odho is a delicacy from the Kutchi region of India...a remarkable geographical region that is part wetland and part desert. Richa of As Dear As Salt gives a beautiful introduction to Kutchi life and shares a recipe for Odho, a spicy dish of roasted eggplants that almost resembles a chutney or relish.

The next dish is a classic vegetarian preparation from the Southern state of Kerala, a mild stew called Olan. We have two authentic recipes for this dish!

Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi bring out the true flavors of green chillies and curry leaves in their version of Olan, with potato, white pumpkin and black-eyes peas enveloped in a delicate coconut-based sauce.

Sigma of Live to Eat explains that Olan is an integral part of the "sadya" or festive meal, and makes her version with ash gourd and black-eyes peas, with a flavorful tempering of mustard seeds and fiery red chillies.

The final entry is a highly Original one. I mean that quite literally! Coffee of The Spice Cafe takes the classic Gujarati dish, muthia (savory steamed cakes), and gives it her creative treatment, adding a variety of shredded veggies and mixed flours to make these inspired and inspiring Original Muthias.

O is for Onion Chutney: Chutneys and Relishes

Through the round-up so far, we have made curries and rice, and even an appetizer or two. Main dishes are all well and good, but often the most appetizing and tantalizing dish on the Indian plate is that small dollop of chutney in the corner. Indeed, every traditional Indian meal will include one or more chutneys or relishes, a little something to perk up the palate and jolt the taste buds. In fact, the English word chutney itself derives from Indian languages.

What is a chutney? Practically anything you want it to be! Anything that is approximately the consistency of a paste (could be smooth, could be coarse, could be chunky), flavorful (could be tangy, could be hot, could be sweet and is generally a combination of flavors), made of fruits or vegetables (could be raw, could be cooked), and served as a condiment could theoretically be called a chutney.

Some chutneys are traditional recipes and come from regional cuisines of India. Just to give a few examples from the four corners of Punjab (North), the hugely-popular samosa is traditionally accompanied by two chutneys: the sweet tamarind-date chutney and the spicy mint-cilantro chutney. In Tamil Nadu (South), idlis and dosas are accompanied by a fresh, nutty coconut chutney. In Bengal (East), the last course of the traditional meal is always a chutney, often a sweet tomato chutney. In Maharashtra (West), a very spicy and pungent chutney of garlic and chillies called thecha is eaten with thick bread (bhakri) as a rustic meal. These chutneys are just a drop in the ocean of flavorful chutneys from India!

I love chutneys because they can convert an ordinary everyday meal into something quite special. Chutneys rely on bold flavors rather than fatty components, and are a delicious way to add punch without adding unwanted calories. For instance, chutneys are a smart choice for a sandwich spread, they make butter and mayo utterly unneccessary, while adding flavorful herbs and vegetables to the sandwich. Today, I chose to show-case the onion. In this chutney, the onion is cooked to the point where it is smoky and sweet, and the resulting chutney is a marvel of complex flavors.

Onion Chutney

(adapted from Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan, makes 1 cup or so)
1. Prep: Soak 1 tbsp tamarind pulp in 1/4 cup warm water for 15-20 minutes. Squeeze out the tamarind juice and discard the fibers, to get thick tamarind paste. In addition, dice 3 medium onions and clean and chop 5-6 stalks of cilantro.
2. Spice powder: Heat 1 tsp oil in a skillet. Add 2 tsp mustard seeds, 4 tsp urad dal, 2-3 dried red chilies (or to taste) and 1/4 tsp asafoetida powder. Saute until the urad dal is pale golden. Remove this mixture into a bowl. Let it cool for a few minutes, then run it through a spice grinder to a fine powder.
3. Cook onions: Heat 1 tbsp oil in the same skillet. Saute onions on medium heat until golden brown.
4. Final step: In a blender/ food processor, blend together sauteed onions, spice mixture, tamarind paste, cilantro and salt (to taste) into a thick paste. You can add a tablespoon or two of water if necessary. Remove into a bowl and serve. I served this onion chutney with crisp rava dosa.

This is an instant savory pancake. The recipe I love best is from fellow blogger Latha of Masala Magic. I have used her recipe so many times, and the proportions of the flours are exactly the way I like it! I also love the way she adds curry leaves right into the batter, making the dosas so flavorful. See Latha's recipe for Rava Dosa here.

Rava Dosa

This recipe makes about 8-10 dosas, about 3 servings. The dosa can be refrigerated and heated in the microwave. It won't be crisp any longer when reheated but will still be very tasty!
1. Mix 1 cup rava/ sooji/ semolina/ cream of wheat + 1/2 cup rice flour + 1/4 cup AP flour/ maida
2. Add 2 tbsp finely chopped onion + 1 finely chopped fresh chili
3. Add 5-6 curry leaves (crumbled into pieces if they are dry, chopped fine if they are fresh) and 2-3 stalks of cilantro, minced fine
4. Add 1 tsp whole cumin seeds and salt to taste
5. Add 2 tbsp yogurt + water, little by little, and mix well to make a batter that is slightly thinner than pancake batter
6. Using a little oil on a non-stick or cast iron pan, drop 1/3 cup measures of the flour and spread it to make thin dosas/ pancakes, and serve hot, with chutney.

How do you serve this dish?
Chutneys are remarkably versatile condiments! They can be used as...
a) a sandwich spread, either by themselves, or stirred into some cream cheese
b) a dip for chips or crudites, either by themselves, or stirred into some sour cream
c) accompaniments to idlis and dosas
d) mixed in with steamed rice for an instant meal.

Fellow bloggers have come up with many tantalizing chutney recipes that capture the flavor spectrum from spicy to tangy to sweet. Here are some of my favorite finds:
Four vegetable chutneys...
Mixed Vegetable Chutney from The Green Jackfruit,
Tomato Thakkali from Indian Food Rocks,
Red Bell Pepper Chutney from Mahanandi,
Zucchini Chutney from Cooking Medley,
Three fruit chutneys...
Cranberry Apple Chutney from Past, Present and Me,
Mango Chutney from The Cook's Cottage,
Pineapple Chutney from Bong Mom's Cookbook,
Two herb chutneys...
Mint and Walnut Chutney from A Mad Tea Party,
Cilantro and Ginger Chutney from Sailu's Food,
And finally, one gorgeous Trio of Chutneys from Tastes like Home

Previously on the A to Z of Indian Vegetables...
A is for Aloo Gobi: North-Indian Stir-Fry
B is for Bharli Mirchi: Stuffed Vegetables
C is for Carrot-Cashew Payasam: Desserts
D is for Dum ki Arbi: Dum Style of Cooking
E is for Egg-Fried Rice: Rice and Vegetables
F is for Foogath: South-Indian Stir-Fry
G is for Gobi Paratha: Vegetables in Breads
H is for Hariyali Tikki: Vegetables in Appetizers
I is for Idli with Vegetables: Vegetables for Breakfast
J is for Jalfrezi Vegetables: Restaurant Style
K is for Kati Roll: Vegetables and Paneer
L is for Lasuni Dal Palak: Vegetables and Lentils
M is for Malai Kofta: Dumplings
N is for Nargisi Kebab: Vegetables and Eggs

Coincidentally, both V and I have to undergo dental procedures this week, and I foresee a bleak culinary week ahead: lots of yogurt, pureed soup and mushy potatoes. I don't think I shall be able to post during the week, but will be lurking on other blogs as usual. And I will certainly be back next Sunday (May 13) with the P of Indian Vegetables! See you then!


  1. Achh, sorry to hear about the dental procedures. I will be facing that this summer. Still loving this series. As a totally novice Indian cook, I'm really looking forward to the quick recipes!

  2. yummy onion chutney, a must try! have heard so much @ this book & a few others, will have to devote 1/4th of my suicase for cookbooks on my next trip back home :)
    great round up :)

  3. Nupur That onion chutney looks super. We don't make onion chutney at home but this I am going to try
    Wanted to send you one of my already blogged recipe "Olkopir Dalna" for O but was not sure if older recipes are allowed.

  4. Yeah Nupur ....Get well soon ...Do have loads of ice cream's ...Excellent round up for this week ....

  5. Love that onion chutney. I was planning to make oottappams for b'fast today-will try this chutney along :). and fantastic round up. Ah! Q goes easier, thought it still would be fun to find something other than quick :)). Oh! dental procedures.....though am sure your creativity is gonna' perk up even the pureed soups and mushed potatoes. Take care!

  6. Wonderful onion chutney Nupur,I love that Dakshin book.

    Once again wonderful collection.Thanks for easing my mind about Q for quick dishes!!I will try to be creative!Thanks for taking time for round up ;D

  7. how about 's' for 'slow' and 'r' for 'rapid'?

  8. Hi Nupur ,
    Another wonderful roundup of "O" series!! But I am very suprised to see that nobody thought of making Ondhiya, a gujrati dish. I was planning to make it but couldn't find raw bananas here at local grocery stores, so couldn't submit the recipe.Keep up the good work and I will see you at the round up for P.

  9. O is for Outstanding -- roundup that is, once more! Thanks for collecting all these great recipes, and for sharing the onion chutney. I love the color! Wishing you both speedy recovery from the dentist and hope to rejoin you next week for "P" :)

  10. Great round up! Onion chutney looks super!! All he best for the dental proc.

  11. Wow, that onion chutney looks super delicious...definitely trying it.
    Oh those dental procedures are never fun... hope everything goes well... the sliver lining is all those yummy ice creams you can hog down without feeling guilty!

  12. I can't wait to try both the onion chutney and the dosas - all the other entries sound delicious as well! Good luck to you and V. at the dentist!

  13. onion chutney looks tangy and delicious! Very nice roundup Nupur.

  14. A nice and interesting round up Nupur. Viji

  15. that onion chutney-rava dosa combo looks delicious. another fabulous round up.

  16. Kalyn, I'm looking forward to the quick recipes is always nice to have some handy for busy days!

    Richa, the book is widely available in the US. I have bought copies from Barnes and Noble, and Amazon.

    Sandeepa, well, yes, older recipes are not generally allowed...just because I want to avoid making this a collection of archived recipes. Not to say that I would not accept the odd one!

    Deepa, thanks so much for the wishes :)

    Musical, can't wait to see your creative "Q" :)

    Asha, glad you like it!

    Bee, that works for me :)

    Shreshta, thanks for stopping by :)

  17. Linda, can't wait to see your "P" entry :) We've missed you in the round ups!

    Manasi, thanks so much for the good wishes :)

    Sig, thanks :) You know, I am usually so miserable after dental procedures that I am in no mood for ice cream...such a waste of a good opportunity!

    Cathy, you will enjoy the combo! The dosa is yummy!

    Roopa, thanks :)

    Viji, glad you like it!

    Reena, thanks for stopping by :)

  18. Awesome round up for o.The Rava dosa and onion chutney combo looks great.cant wait to try it soon.good luck for dental visit.Durga

  19. Hi Nupur,the amount of effort you put into these roundups is really commendable...keep it up!!! All the best with the dental procedure...

  20. I don't see my comment :(

  21. Wow.A nice roundup.Good job...

  22. Can someone help me in deciding what food items I should carry from home for my family while we are on vacation to West Coast USA? I want the recipes for food items which can last long at room temperatures. We are vegetarian.


  23. Hey Nupur,
    I made rava dosa yesterday and served them with stuffed bell pepper (all from your site). Had a wonderful dinner. Thank you so much!


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