The last time I went to Bangladesh, I was a toddler. I don’t remember much beyond the memories I have in photographs, but sometimes the senses are triggered by the smell of coal or the lighting of candles. Today, the memories of a torrential night of thunder and lightning come pouring back. 20 years ago, when generators were a thing (and somehow never worked?!) I recall racing through the muddy courtyard for shelter in my boro-dadi’s (great grandma to you) bedroom. We’d all huddle together, someone would make chaa over an open flame and my boro-dadi would dig out a giant jar of chutney, sotti or achar. If pickles and preserves were what you were looking for, then my great grandmother’s stash was a landmine. Bengalis have been using preserved fruits and vegetable to spice up mild flavoured dishes since time immemorial. In hot countries, it’s no surprise the preserving fresh produce in this way is a favoured technique. There are three main types of preservation:
Achaar- pickling dried vegetables in brine or mustard oil. Achaars often have a pungent, sharp smell.
Chutney- soaking pieces of fruit or veg in vinegar, tamarind and spices. Chutneys can be thinly sliced fruit and vegetables or be a jam-like consistency.
Sotti- dried fruit roll ups, usually made from sweet tamarind or mango
As an ode to that 20 year old memory of scooping tart spiced fruit out of a jar and licking my hands clean, I’ve decided to share this pineapple chutney recipe that always resurfaces during the warmer months when dawats and balmy evenings in the garden are aplenty. Something about the taste of sweet, sharp pineapples and lashings of tempered chillies always make me yearn for humidity and time to do absolutely nothing!
Prep + cooking time: 15 minutes
Servings: 4-6 servings
1 medium sized ready to eat pineapple, approx. 700g
generous pinch of salt, pepper and red chilli powder
1 tsp roasted chili flakes
1 tbsp mustard oil (olive oil will do but you won’t get the fiery taste)
4-5 large cloves of garlic, dry roasted on an open flame
Handful of coriander, chopped finely
2 small green chilies chopped finely (optional)
pinch of brown sugar if the pineapples are too tart or the chutney is too salty
Prepare the counter and have all spices, chilli and coriander ready for mixing. Peel and core the pineapple. Cut the remaining fruit into wedges and then thin chunks. Leave this bowl aside for later.
Tip: If the pineapple exterior is still mostly green, leave it out in sunlight for a day or two so it ripens.
Peel cloves of garlic and wrap in tin foil. On a gas or electric hob, place the ball of garlic cloves on the edge of the hob on a medium flame. The aim is to char the garlic to give the chutney a smoky aroma. This won’t take more than two minutes.
Once charred, allow to cool before you remove the tin foil ball carefully (I usually use my hands and hurl it into the sink under cold water!) Place in the bowl with a pineapple, alongside all the remaining ingredients, including the mustard oil.
This is my favourite bit: with your hands, mix the pineapples with the spices and mash the garlic into a paste. If you squeeze the pineapples, you’ll end up with a lot of juice so try not to turn the whole thing into a pulp- unless that’s what you’re after.
Depending on your tastebuds, you can leave the chutney as is and serve immediately. If you went overboard with the salt or chilli, I find brown sugar often balances the flavours out.
Note: as this is a fresh chutney without strong preservatives like vinegar or heavy amounts of oil, it won’t keep for long and I wouldn’t recommend having it in the fridge for more than a day!