Chilis to Chutneys

Bringing the Magic and Mystery of Indian Cooking
into the American Kitchen

by Neelam Batra

Here are some excerpts from the book, with a recipe and cookbook profile following.

  • Indian cooks don't use prepared curry powder—originally a British invention to approximate Indian seasoning—but rather make their own ever-changing blends. All of these blends contain three essential ingredients: coriander, cumin, and turmeric. Start with 3 tablespoons ground coriander, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon ground turmeric and add, at your own discretion, some fenugreek seeds or dried leaves, peppercorns, dried red chili peppers, cardamom pods, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, poppy seeds, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, or asafetida.
  • To the Indians, the term curry means a gravy or sauce, and subsequently, a stew-like dish that has such a sauce. Residents of the rest of the world, however, have come to think of a curry as any dish seasoned with a curry-powder blend, whether it has a sauce or not. An authentic Indian curry sauce is made with a stir-fried mixture of onion, garlic, ginger, and tomatoes called a wet masala, to which an array of herbs and spices (a dry masala) and some cooking liquid are added.
  • You'll get a more enthusiastic response if you serve a native Indian a chaat rather than a salad. Think of the chaat as a sort of pumped-up version of the comparatively anemic American salad: a melange of fruits, vegetables, potatoes, dried beans and lentils, papri (flour chips), and chicken, meat, or seafood. Tossed into this mixture are a bunch of different herbs, spices, chutneys, and sauces.
  • Griddle-fried parantha flat breads are extremely versatile. Roll up stir-fried meat or vegetables in them; quarter the breads and pair with omelettes or frittatas; or cut them into wedges, top with a yogurt mixture, and serve alongside an assortment of Indian pickles and chutneys as a first course with drinks. For a simple, rich indulgence, top a parantha bread fresh out of the oven with a dollop of whipped butter, break off bite-sized pieces from the edge, and dip them in the melting butter.
  • Karahi dishes, named for the Indian karahi-wok, differ considerably from their Chinese counterparts. In Chinese cuisine, ingredients are stir-fried separately and then combined with a sauce or glaze. In authentic karahi style, they are cooked together in a thick, tomato-based sauce and seasoned with a savory garlic-ginger-fenugreek mixture.
  • The secret of tandoori cooking lies in the spices and marinades, in which foods may steep for up to 48 hours. As the dishes cook in the high heat of the tandoor oven, some of the marinade falls onto the hot coals, emitting a smoky aroma that clings to the food. At home, tandoor ovens are most readily replaced with charcoal grills. Many dishes, however, can also be replicated using a broiler, stove-top grill, or griddle.

Grilled Chicken Thighs Glazed with Cilantro Chutney

This recipe is inspired by a dish made by Lalit Pant at his popular restaurant, Nawab of India, in Santa Monica, CA. Lalit smears skinless, boneless chicken breast pieces with a green mint chutney and then grills them in the tandoor.

In this recipe, I use skinless chicken thighs, smother them with a green cilantro chutney, and then cook them over hot coals.

8 to 12 skinless chicken thighs (2 to 2-1/2 pounds), skin removed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled and mincedfresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Green Cilantro Chutney
Shredded lettuce and tomato wedges for garnish

Make two or three deep 1-1/2-inch cuts on each piece of chicken. Combine the oil, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and salt and rub it over the chicken pieces, making sure to reach inside the cuts. Cover with plastic wrap and let marinate for at least 12 and up to 48 hours in the refrigerator.

About 1 to 2 hours before grilling, add the chutney to the chicken pieces and mix it in with your fingers, making sure that each piece is well covered.

Grill the chicken over medium-hot coals until it is tender and no longer pink inside, 20 to 30 minutes. Turn the pieces occasionally to ensure even cooking. Transfer to a platter, lined with shredded lettuce. Garnish with tomato wedges and serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Serving Ideas:
Present as an appetizer over sizzling sliced onions or as an entree with naan breads, yogurt salad, and grilled or dry-cooked vegetables.

Do Ahead:
Marinate up to 2 days in advance in the refrigerator, or freeze. Thaw, add the chutney up to 2 hours in advance, and grill closer to serving time.

Recipe from:
Chilis To Chutneys
by Neelam Batra
William Morrow 1998
Recipe reprinted by permission


About the Book: Chilis To Chutneys

American Home Cooking with the Flavors of India

"Indian fusion cooking is the next hot trend..."
     —USA TODAY & Food Arts

In her latest book, Neelam Batra fuses her thorough knowledge of the traditional ingredients and techniques of her Indian homeland with the pragmatism of a working mother living in fast-paced Los Angeles and the curiosity of a world traveler with an adventuresome palate. The result is Chilis To Chutneys (William Morrow; 1998; $25/hardcover), containing 200 recipes for family meals bursting with the flavors of the world. Much as creative restaurant chefs have integrated Asian influences into their dishes in recent years, Batra brings the aromatic smells and complex tastes of India to the American home dining table, replete with complementary global accents.

Neelam Batra

Batra has long been enchanted by the rituals of cooking and dining, even before she was "tall enough to gaze over the tandoor tiptoed." Some of her recipes use Indian cooking techniques with American ingredients, like Breaded Chicken Nugget Kebabs with ginger, coriander, cumin, fenugreek leaves, and garam masala. Others use American techniques and foods but add lots of spices, like Herb-Roasted New Potatoes with poblano pepper, cilantro, dill, parsley, mint, thyme, and garam masala.

Chilis To Chutneys opens with directions for preparing an array of spice blends, like garam masala, from scratch, complete with detailed information on individual spices, where to find them, and how to use them. Soups, which the author calls "comfort food par excellence," range from a Fragrant Clear Chicken Soup, redolent of cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, to an inventive Cream-Style Chicken Corn Soup with Pickled jalapeño Peppers, as well as A Spicy Chowder of Clams and Chilled Roasted Tomato and Red Bell Pepper Soup.

Salads and chaats-a somewhat more bountiful Indian version of the salad-include Yogurt-Marinated Grilled Sea Bass and Red Bell Peppers on Baby Greens; Garbanzo Bean and Potato Salad with Yogurt-Cilantro Chutney, and an internationally influenced Marinated Chicken Confetti Salad that boasts Chinese five-spice powder, Szechuan peppercorns, and daikon radishes along with chaat masala.

Batra's chapter on sandwiches features recipes for making several Indian flat breads, both griddle-fried parantha breads, such as Spinach and Potato Parantha Bread, and such oven-grilled naan variations as Grilled Gingerbread Naan. Her healthy pizzas include Whole-Wheat Pizza with Tofu and Morel Mushrooms; Oat Bran Pizza with Grilled Italian Eggplants and Yellow Pattypan Squash, and Naan Pizza with Green Cilantro Chutney and Grilled Saffron Kebab Rolls. Pasta offerings span the globe and back from Indian Pasta and Chicken Salad with Ginger Limette to Ravioli with Dandelion Greens and Garam Masala.

Many of the recipes in Chilis To Chutneys are helpfully organized by method of preparation. In a skillet, Batra prepares Minty Meatballs in Citrus Juices; A Medley of Roots (yams, potatoes, taro roots, and turnips), and Mixed Vegetables with Fresh Curry Leaves-switching to a wok to make Ginger, Garlic, and Sesame Chicken; Savory Stir-fried Cumin Potatoes, and Garlic and Fenugreek-Scented Beef Curry. For the occasional indulgence, she deep-fries Battered Salmon Fillets, Samosa Egg Rolls, and New Delhi Onion Rings.

A pressure cooker is utilized to speed up typically long-cooking foods, such as Chicken Chili with Black Beans and the boneless leg of lamb filling for Pastry-Topped Lamb Casserole. Batra's Chicken Tikka Kebabs can be cooked on a charcoal grill or in the broiler, The Indian Hamburger (seasoned with coriander, cumin, garam masala, and fresh ginger) grilled or pan-fried, and her Griddle-Grilled Fennel Bulbs cooked in a griddle or skillet. She turns up the oven to roast the likes of Indian Turkey and Honey-Roasted Tuna.

No Indian dining experience would be complete without a curry, and Batra provides us with a scrumptious array to choose from: Boneless Lamb Chops in Fragrant Saffron-Cardamom Sauce, Curried Top Sirloin in Yogurt and Roasted Spices, Shrimp Vindaloo, and Curried Pink Lentils and Yellow Mung Beans with Sautéed Spinach. Fragrant Indian basmati rice is served up steamed, curried, stir-fried, seasoned with herbs and with saffron, and with Mexican and Chinese twists.

A separate sauce and chutney chapter features an ambitious array, ranging from Yogurt Tahini Sauce and Mango, Apple, and Peach Chutney to Roasted Red Lipstick Pepper Sauce with Chipotle Peppers. Batra closes with a sampling of Indian desserts, including Punjabi Tapioca Pudding, Saffron Mousse, and Quick Kulfi Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce.

Neelam Batra describes her Indian kitchen in America as a center of "give-and-take of ideas and tastes." The dishes she shares in Chilis To Chutneys are rich in history, yet eclectic and innovative; low-fat and nutritious, yet eminently satisfying. Her easy-to-follow, quick-to-cook recipes capture the heart of today's cooking styles.

About the Author

Neelam Batra is a native of India and learned to cook in New Delhi in the classic way-at her mother's side. Today, she cooks American food inspired by the delicious flavors of India for her husband and two American-born daughters. Neelam is the author of The Indian Vegetarian and has taught at the prestigious Montana Mercantile Cooking School in Los Angeles. She continues to teach at Santa Monica College and in her home in Santa Monica, California.

A Cool Guide to Chiles

In addition to Mexico, recipes with chiles (or chillis, hot peppers, etc.) can be found in the cuisines of many other countries. Check out Destinations section, or use our Search feature to find chile recipes from around the world.

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This page originally published as a Global Gourmet Today column in 1998.

Copyright © 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.

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This page modified January 2007

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