In a Chutney with Apricots

It's been raining apricots around here. Literally, so. It's a hazard to walk into some of my neighbors' yards. Or it might just be me that those trees are aiming for, as I have been the target of many an apricot in free fall.

Organic apricots
Organic apricots from my neighbor's tree

These aren't your regular supermarket apricots. They are much smaller, less than two inches in diameter, and very sweet. When firm, they are quite tart and ripen quickly to near-mush, if not eaten immediately. I picked slightly firm apricots from the stash that was given to me and roasted them, strawberry-style. While that was tasty, roasted apricots weren't as popular with my family as balsamic roasted strawberries always are. I should have tried one of Suvir's suggestions at Culinary India: add a smidge of black pepper or hot green chiles to bring out the natural sweetness of a fruit. He recommends trying it while making roasted strawberries, to cut down on the amount of sugar one would normally add to sweeten them.

Apart from tearing the fruit apart and feasting on the ripe apricots, I made apricot chicken with a batch that I picked from my neighbor's tree. It's not your usual chicken curry and is sweet, sour and spicy, all at the same time. That set the tone for what I wanted to do with yet another batch of apricots that were delivered to my doorstep by another neighbor. Something spicy. A jelly or a jam would not do; it had to be a chutney of sorts—fruit and sugar cooked down in vinegar to a reduction. Anita's mango relish had triggered memories of gulchaat—green mangoes cooked with jaggery and spices—so I knew that I was going to use jaggery instead of sugar. But I had no recipe!

Culinary India, a dream come true

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.

~ Henry Ford

It wasn't just the synergies and camaraderie between Suvir Saran, Ammini Ramachandran, Asha Gomez and myself that propelled this workshop towards success. We couldn't have done it without the foresight and vision of Ellie Scott and Ken Hause of Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, Boulder, Colorado.

It began with a heartfelt plea from me to Ammini to come to Colorado to teach Kerala cuisine. She and Asha had just completed a cooking tour of several Texan cities through Central Market Cooking School. Not one to pass up the magic of cooking with feisty women, Suvir insisted he wanted to be a part of the team. Who can resist Suvir's charm? Not that we would have said no to such a celebrated chef!

It finally came to fruition on a hot weekend in June, when the temperatures soared to over 95F in Boulder. Not many of the workshop participants noticed as they sat enthralled by stories that included memories, traditions, and regional diversity while we showed them, again and again, that Indian food is not exotic but very accessible. We cooked with as many local ingredients as we could. Dan Hayward of Savory Spice Shop sponsored all the spices we used for Culinary India, again underscoring the accessibility factor. And, contrary to what several cooking channels will have you believe, we did not use "curry powder" and used very little garam masala. Imagine that! Yes, it's true, we cooked Indian food without either of these two "essentials." Kelsey Nixon of Cooking Channel might have even learned a thing or three if she had attended Culinary India.