I grew up on Bengali cuisine in a Bengali family in a Maharashtrian environment. Nagpur was a warm place to grow up in and mangoes formed an important part of the diet, especially as we had a mango tree right at home. During the warm summer days when one returned home after being outside in the dry heat and dust, my mum got a glass of mango sherbet, aam panna in Hindi, to quench my thirst and ensure that I did not get a sunstroke as mango is believed to cool the system. We were told to sit away from the cooler for a bit and then come into the cooled rooms.
School in summer ended just after the examinations and the holidays meant books and food with lots of mango based dishes and a rare trip, sometimes to some relatives in Madhya Pradesh or Kolkata. A summer staple along with lunch was chutney made out of raw mangoes. It was sweet and sour with just the right amount of salt to balance the rest and flavoured with sugar or gur depending on my mother’s mood! I loved both. I make it in the Bengaluru summer and my south Indian husband loves slurping it. Chutney made of plain raw mangoes is delicious as is a mint and raw mango chutney!
Then there’s the thick chutney made out of small ripe mangoes that have a thready texture so that one can suck on the stone for hours until it is bleached colourless! Its tangy and sweet taste chase away the summer heat and give the right amount of rest to your tummy for the afternoon siesta on a warm summer day when the temperatures climb to 45 degrees and the cats come to stretch themselves under the desert coolers that are huge contraptions with vetiver mats on which water is poured with a built-in electric pump and a fan circulates cool air throughout the house.
Occasions such as Durga Puja and winter feasts demanded tomato chutneys with or without dates and/or raisins for a royal touch. If you do not have mangoes or tomatoes, then go for a yummy pineapple chutney with a mint garnish. Better still, mango candy or aam papad can be happily cut and soaked to make mouth-watering chutney! All chutneys consumed by the Bengalis are sweet and tempered with love and affection. Here are some time-tested recipes…
Raw mango chutney
Heat a little oil in a pan and toss in a pinch of mustard seeds. Once the mustard begins to splutter, add raw mango that has been peeled and cut.
Sauté a little and add enough water, a pinch of turmeric, sugar or gur and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook till the mangoes become soft. Cool and serve/ slurp with dal, rice and a vegetable side dish.
Ripe mango chutney
Heat a little oil in a pan and toss in a pinch of mustard seeds. Once the mustard begins to splutter, add small ripe whole mangoes that have been peeled. Sauté a little and add enough water, a pinch of turmeric, gur (this works better with ripe mangoes) and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook till the mangoes become soft.
Cool and serve/ slurp with dal, rice and a vegetable side dish. Oh, and remember to suck the mangoes till they have nothing left on them!
Raw mango & mint chutney
Wash and remove the mint leaves from the stems. Add a medium slice of fresh raw mango, with gur, two green chillies and salt. Blend it all to form a smooth paste. It is tangy with a sweet, spicy and salty flavour that goes beautifully with stuffed parathas! I have customised it a little and added some fresh coconut as well which gives the chutney a nice thick texture.
Papaya chutney with
Peel raw papaya and cut it into cubes. Boil it and keep it aside. Mix some tamarind in water and let it soak. When mangoes are in season, one can toss in raw mangoes instead of tamarind. Heat oil and put in a pinch of panch phoron which is a five-spice mix used in Bengali cooking made of fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds, Radhuni seeds which look like ajwain seeds but are called celery seeds (dried ajwain leaf is oregano) along with dried red chillies.
Let the spices splutter and add about a cup of the cooked papaya pieces. Add in the tamarind paste with sugar, salt and turmeric. Cover and simmer. Towards the end, just when the chutney is fully cooked, add in two or three grated spoonfuls of mango flavoured ginger (Curcuma amada). This is not necessary if one uses raw mangoes for the chutney. Add in a little cornflour mixed with water to make the chutney thick and slurpy. Simmer a little and serve cooled.
Tomato & date chutney
Heat oil. Put in a pinch of panch phoron. When the spices begin to splutter, add slices of ripe tomatoes, de-seeded dates, sugar and gur, salt and a pinch of chilli powder.
Let it all cook till a thick texture is reached. Eat with rotis and a vegetable side dish.