Vinita has an infectious smile and a charming extroverted personality. I am lucky to be able to call her a dear friend. Not just because she personifies exuberance but because she's beyond amazing. Vinita is an audiologist by profession but a food entrepreneur by choice. She is the mastermind behind Thing with a Zing, where she creates, bottles and sells Indian chutneys. These are not anything like British chutneys in which vinegar plays a key role in the flavor profile. As she puts it, her chutneys are a bold flavor for your senses in the true sense of the word. Her chutneys can be found in several stores in the Denver-Boulder area, like Whole Foods, Alfalfa's, and a couple of other natural grocery stores.
One of the privileges of having a friend who jars tradition with a unique twist into an edible treat, is being able to taste her creations before they hit the market. I love pineapple, I love mango, I love the combination of spices in this chutney and now, I have a problem. I don't know which of her chutneys I like best. This will be her third chutney, the second one being That Sweet Zing which is a cranberry-ginger chutney. All of them are truly excellent. Furthermore, since Vinita adheres to food safety guidelines, I never have to worry about the quality of her product, including the seal on her chutney jars.
I still remember the feeling of delight when I took my first taste of her tomato and onion chutney. It's very like Ammini's Thakkali chutney at first; and then, not at all. Onions, ginger, fresh cilantro, and hot chile peppers change this thakkali chutney around. I have eaten this as is, slathered it on toast, used it as a dipping sauce, added it to Medha's sandwiches, used it instead of pizza sauce to make a desi-style pizza on pizza bread as well as store-bought naan, added it to veggie dishes instead of tomatoes...the list is endless. I was, therefore, rather thrilled when Vinita said she would show me a cauliflower-potato appetizer that she loves to cook with it. I am always looking for easy appetizers to take to potlucks and this one did not disappoint.
You could turn your nose up at it and call it aloo gobi. Although, why anyone would turn their nose up at aloo gobi is beyond me! I like to think of it as North Indian aloo gobi meets South Indian flavors. Did I mention that Vinita is from Kerala? The home state of black peppercorns, with lush green valleys, waterways, paddy fields and coconuts.
By the time I got to Vinita's home, she had put her 3-year-old son Rishi down for a nap and prepped for the two dishes we were going to cook together. Yes, this is Part One of Two!
Because the main flavors in this dish come from the tomato chutney, this dish is a breeze to put together. The key is not to overcook the cauliflower but to leave it slightly crisp.
I usually do not cook with store-bought chutneys or simmer sauces as I like to make my own sauce. What I like the most about this tomato and onion chutney is that it tastes like something I could have just made in my kitchen. It has that quintessential homemade touch that is as endearing as it is fresh. Vinita tells me that she makes her chutneys in small batches in a commissary kitchen in Denver. Her product is then commercially bottled.
If you're in a rush to make dinner, like I was one day, you could stop at this point and have a quick vegetable side. Or you could continue to crispen and caramelize the cauliflower into a tasty appetizer. (Yes, I said tasty.)
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 medium head of cauliflower
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp Thing with a Zing Tomato Chutney
- Break the cauliflower into large florets.
- Heat oil in a large saucepan.
- Add cauliflower, potatoes, turmeric powder, ground cumin and salt. Mix well.
- Cover and cook on low-medium heat until potatoes are cooked. Allow the vegetables to get a nice sear.
- Add Thing with a Zing Tomato Chutney.
- Adjust seasonings to taste.
- Continue to cook uncovered until all the sauce dries up and the cauliflower and potatoes are crisp.
- Serve as an appetizer, with toothpicks.
- You could stop at #6 and serve it as a side with rotis.
- Or you could add some broth--vegetable if you're vegetarian; chicken if you're not--to make it runny and serve it over rice.
- Keep an eye on the potatoes as they cook or you might end up with overcooked potatoes and soggy cauliflower.
- Consider using a little more oil if your saucepan is not non-stick.
- If you're not local, beg Vinita to go national! Alternately, you could make your own thakkali chutney or make my aloo gobi.
Medha gave this her wholehearted approval. It was a good thing that I served it as an appetizer because there would have been none for the main meal!
Tomorrow, I hope to share Vinita's very traditional Palakkad Ishtu, made in her home as part of the sadya for Onam.
Onasamsakal to all my friends and readers who celebrate Onam!
Disclaimer: I was not paid to cook with Vinita. The jars you see are either from Vinita's personal stock or were purchased from Whole Foods by me. I believe in supporting my friends especially those who are entrepreneurs in food, photography, arts, and culture, as well as the education thereof.