An Ode to Chutney Powder, a Rich Spice

Chutney Powder

While one may associate chutney powder with milagai podi (Idli powder), a signature spice blend preparation in Tamil Nadu, chutney powders in Karnataka, especially around Mysore and north Karnataka, are a mix of various ingredients and rich flavors. Their preparation is characterized by the use of dry coconut, asafoetida and tamarind, which lend it a distinct texture and taste. Coupled with the goodness of pulses and nuts, they pack a punch in terms of nutrition and flavor. It is a must-carry item for South Asian natives going abroad. After all, it is a lifesaver for immigrants still getting used to the unfamiliar taste of foreign food; a few spoonfuls mixed into hot rice with olive oil or sprinkled on a piece of toast with butter is the perfect antidote to home-sickness. A flavor bomb to perk up the South Asian palette tired of bland foreign food.

The series will focus on how making this spice blend powder is a ritual in households, becoming a savior on days when you find your pantry empty or are just too lazy to cook or go food shopping. Or, when you are in lockdown, like now. For, in Karnataka, it is not just consumed with idli and dosa but also at meal times. This series will also feature different types of chutney powders, including those with curry leaves, lentils, nigella seeds, garlic and peanuts. Having made it for years, I have also devised healthier versions, making them with flax seeds and walnuts, too. Each week I will introduce you to a new spice-blend “podi” recipe, including healthy ones.

A Medley of Spices, a Delectable Staple

Roasting a big batch of red chilies had Shanti Sharma, 65, break into a minor coughing fit. The batch was larger than usual, leaving the room misty with capsaicin. As the fumes quickly disappeared, Sharma deftly began grinding the chillies along with a bevy of aromatically roasted lentils and spices. She was after all a pro at making chutney pudi (powder). With her maiden trip to the US just a week away she was busy. While most of her packing was done, what was left was this large batch of chutney powder, a special request from her son for his childhood favorite.

A Condiment of Convenience

Well, this is a scenario common to most South Indian households, especially in Karnataka. Along with condiments like rasam and sambar powder, chutney powder is a much-loved staple and is prepared almost every month. It is kept aside for a rainy day, or “emergency use,” as it is usually termed. On days that you lack the resources to prepare chutney or sambhar for idlis and dosas or when you are just plain lazy, all you need to do is to pile a mound of chutney powder on your plate, make a hole with your index finger in the center, pour in a generous helping of ghee or oil, and mix it well. A perfect substitute for chutney, this mixture is finger-licking good.

Originally meant to go with dosas and idlis, chutney powder is enjoyed with chapatis, bread, and even upma. Whether making a sandwich with chutney powder and ghee, rolling it into a chapati, or drizzling it on upma to make it a tad more palatable, the use of chutney powder is not limited to rainy days. Also, there is nothing more satisfying than eating this delectable powder with hot rice and another dollop of ghee. In most homes, at least one member insists on having it with idlis or dosas, even if there is a proper chutney and/or sambar available, on the pretext that the chutney or sambar is too bland.

Given that this condiment is such an intrinsic part of Karnataka cuisine, it naturally follows its fans abroad. Not only is it convenient to have around, but it is also extremely comforting. Having this versatile powder with just about anything can make you feel closer to home, carrying with it some fond memories.

Variations Galore

There are several varieties of chutney powder in south India. While gunpowder or “Milagai podi” is synonymous with Tamil Nadu, dry peanut chutney powder is popular in Maharashtra. Even within Tamil Nadu there are many varieties of milagai podi, usually had with sesame seed oil. However, the basic recipe calls for the use of lentils like channa dal (Bengal gram) and urad dal (black gram), along with a handful of sesame seeds, red chillies and curry leaves.

Karnataka has several interesting recipes of its own. While the Bangalore-Mysore region is known for varieties like the jaggery (bella) chutney powder, curry leaf (karepak) powder and the fried gram powder, north Karnataka has other variants, using garlic and nigella seeds, for example. Most powders in Karnataka incorporate a generous helping of dried coconut and tamarind that give them a distinct texture, taste and depth. The lentils like Bengal gram and black gram used make the powders diabetic friendly, protein rich and replete with minerals like calcium, iron and B vitamins.

That said, every household has its own little secret recipe for chutney powder.

I always add a tempering of mustard seeds and curry leaves as a final touch to the powder,” says Sharma.

While there are umpteen stores where you can buy the ready-made powder, it is still customary in many households to make a batch at regular intervals. Once made, a small quantity is usually distributed among relatives and friends.

Asafoetida aka hing roasted right is the key differentiator in our powder, it lends it a distinctive flavor and aroma,” says Sandhya Murthy, 52, from Bangalore and who belongs to the Sanketi community.

Here is a general, basic recipe for chutney powder:

INGREDIENTS

To Roast

1 cup Bengal gram (channa dal)

2/3 cup split black gram (urad dal)

1/4 cup deskinned peanuts (optional)

2/3 cup dry coconut grated

8-10 Byadgi red chilies (adjust according to your taste)

Small gooseberry size tamarind (adjust per your taste)

3/4 tsp asafoetida powder

Other ingredients

  • 2-3 tbsp jaggery powder (per your taste)
  • Salt to taste

METHOD

  1. Dry roast all the ingredients separately, keep aside and allow to cool.
  2. Roast the pulses till they turn golden brown and aromatic.
  3. You can roast the dry coconut, chilies and asafoetida together
  4. Roast the tamarind till it is devoid of moisture
  5. Transfer the roasted ingredients to a blender. Add salt and jaggery and grind to a fine powder
  6. Store in an airtight container.

Check out the next item in our chutney podi series: Delicious and Flavorful Curry Leaf Chutney Powder.