There is this chunky peanut chutney from the Marathwada region of Maharashtra that’s a bit like a well-kept secret, a hidden gem, in a plethora of side dishes served all over Western and Southern India. Maharashtra has a portion of the thali reserved for these itsy-bitsy additions to the daily meal that make them special. Davi kadey, Marathi for on-the left-side, is the side of the thali reserved for a multitude of condiments, from salt to pickles, from a wedge of lime to chutneys of all kinds, a side that is almost completely missing in my Kashmiri thali. Exceptions only prove the rule. I think we allowed rice to find its way into that corner as well.
As a new member of a Maharashtrian household I used to get pretty impressed with this approach to daily meals and the care taken by home cooks like my mother-in-law to make sure the offerings varied. Now I know better; she had a huge repertoire to chose from. There truly is a mind-boggling variety of condiments to be found all over peninsular India. The peel thogayal you find on a South Indian thali is an expression of exactly the same sentiment. Some can be elaborate like alu wadi, while others nothing more than a couple of ingredients combined in a few quick steps that occasionally involve stir-frying to develop a different dimension of an otherwise ordinary ingredient, this bottle gourd-peel chutney, for instance. Heat from chilies, red or green, or dried, is usually an indispensable ingredient in most chutneys.
North Indian chutneys are mostly made from wet, raw ingredients though we do have a few cooked ones such as mango and pineapple relishes, with longer shelf lives. But I can’t think of a chutney in the manner of chunky chutney-podis that are found in abundance as soon as you move south of the Vindhyas. Everything and anything seems to offer an opportunity to be roasted or sauteed and ground into one! From seeds and leaves, to peels and dried seafood, the possibilities seem endless once you add a little spice and a chili. They could be sweet and tart, or hot and pungent, introducing vital micro-nutrients in a casual way to balance the flavours and nutrition on the plate.
I was recently in Aurangabad mixing work and leisure. Prasad and Anagha live there. A few phone calls back and forth and it looked like the old gang (remember Valley of Flowers?) would get together for the weekend after I had served my official time with the students. Vijay joined us on Friday, and Anju and Kiran drove down from Pune early Saturday morning. Anagha is an excellent cook and host. We ate and we drank, and cooked lachha paranthas together. The meals were rounded off with nightly visits to Tara Pan Center, an Aurangabad landmark. Sharfubhai, the owner, has built up the business from scratch in a little over 30 years. This place is a mecca for pan aficionados and features over 50 types of pan (pronounced pa-ahn) with betel leaves sourced from all over the country to create the distinctive pans.
The peanut chutney I’m sharing with you today is the one Anagha always keeps a ready stock of. Peanuts are the star in this one and need no help from pungent garlic though I’m sure there must exist a version with that. In Maharashtrian and Gujarati cuisine, especially in the vegetarian traditions there is abundant use of protein-rich legumes with a special place for peanuts. It’s added to dals and curries, sprinkled on to salads, mixed into fried snack foods (sabudana vada comes to mind), ground to make amti on its own, and added to many chutneys.
I asked Anagha for her mother-in-law’s recipe for this spectacular peanut chutney. She did better; she made it fresh for us on the final day of our visit. That morning she also took me shopping for new ingredients and fresh vegetables including the oily Sangli peanuts needed for this chutney. I had bought fresh cucumbers and green tomatoes while crisscrossing through the district earlier in the week. She used the green tomatoes to prepare another chutney that also used a generous amount of roasted and ground peanuts.
Ayurveda ascribes pitta or heating quality to peanuts. The generous addition of cumin balances that giving us a condiment that can be consumed in hot climates without causing pitta-imbalance. This is also the reason why peanuts are consumed only in the winter in Northern India that actually has such a season. 😉
500 gms peanuts, freshly roasted and skinned
2 T cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon hing
red chili powder (medium-hot), 2 t or to taste
salt (to taste)
Use a mixie only if you so not possess a mamdasta, the Indian heavy-duty metal pestle and mortar, for pounding this chutney to get the right texture. To the mortar first add the cumin, hing, chili powder, and salt, and pound till the cumin is crushed and aromatic. Add the peanuts and pound till the peanuts are crushed and release their oil. Chutney tayyar! Serve as part of a Maharashtrian meal or with breakfast – in sandwiches, or as I sometimes do, with multi-grain cheelas. This chutney is great with everything. [Even on its own.]