Oregon has dealt us an interesting summer. My garden languishes, late blooming and unsure of itself in May, June, and even into July, then caught off guard by sudden heat, and now stretching for a sun that may almost be gone for the season. I hate to admit it, but it looks like fall might be on the way. This called for something to span the season gap. Indian summer, perhaps, but inspired from an Eastern palate (palette too?), not the New World.
“10. Ginger-Apricot Chutney: Put dried apricots in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Add lemon juice, minced fresh chili, grated ginger, a couple of cloves and a pinch of cayenne. Cook until thick.”
This seemed to fit the bill. Served with grilled chicken, it would be room temperature but highly spiced, and the textural element of the dried, then rehydrated, then cooked apricots promised to be interesting. I used:
Enough cold water to cover the apricots
3 teeny, teeny tiny “super chili” peppers from my backyard, seeds removed, finely diced
1 generous TB grated ginger (it’s really easy to grate if it’s frozen, and since it keeps so well and so long in the freezer, that’s one more reason to stow it there!)
juice from 1/3 of a lemon
Pinch of salt and black pepper
Our friend M. moved out of the state a few months ago, and before leaving she had a “Go Away” party that consisted mostly of whiskey, bean dip, and trying to get her friends to take all her unwanted possessions. She was leaving by air, so everything she took had to fit in a couple of suitcases and a cat carrier, and we, feeling like thieves and voyeurs, pillaged through her kitchen cabinets and drawers taking what we wanted. Among other things, I came away with jars and jars of spices, and a tiny little copper-bottomed saucepot that has quickly become my favorite. This was the perfect vessel for chutney. I plopped the sticky apricots in, covered them with cold tap water, and cranked the burner on my stove to high while I prepped the other ingredients.
When the water was boiling fiercely, I added the peppers, the ginger, the lemon juice and the juiced segments of rind and pulp, and the cloves. After letting it bubble for a few minutes, I dipped in a tentative spatula and tasted, just the liquid, for seasoning. Let me just say I’m glad I didn’t add any cayenne. A few grinds each of salt and black pepper were all additional seasoning this needed.
While N. grilled us some tandoori-spiced chicken breasts (think yogurt, cumin, cinnamon, paprika…), I calmed the heat to medium and watched my little saucepot bubble, while the apricots slowly broke down and the liquid began to evaporate, leaving a viscous, jelly-like consistency behind.
Twenty minutes after adding all the spices, most of the water was gone and the mixture was thick and syrupy and a lovely rich orange flecked with red from the chilis. I pulled it off the heat, tasted again, and around the burned tongue discovered loveliness.
This was a really nice chutney because it addressed almost every type of taste. There was copious sweetness from the apricots, there was heat from the chilis, there was a different kind of heat from the ginger, and the cloves and lemon juice added tinges of bitterness and sourness. It was the variety of heats that I really appreciated, though, because it made every bite really interesting: the ginger was there right from the start, encasing the tip of the tongue with heat. The peppers kicked in as we chewed, with a fresh bright hotness like a fiery salsa, but just for a moment. Then the cloves added earthy warmth at the back of the throat while the kick from the ginger still lingered on the tongue. Combined with the well-spiced sauce on the chicken, it was delightful eating.
As we ate, our bellies warmed with the spice but also the goodness of the meal, and the occasional slice of raw cucumber was a welcome relief against the building heat we were intent on gorging ourselves with. As I type, the sun has torn through its cloud cover and the temperature has increased by 4 degrees. Slow burn. Indian summer indeed.