Whenever N and I visit her ancestral home in Bombay (now Mumbai), the first meal we eat after our interminably long flight is invariably one of her aunt Geeta's chutney sandwiches.
I remember the first time I visited the house in a posh neighborhood of Bombay, where N had spent the first five years of her life. We arrived well after midnight and her grandparents, Ba (pictured below, talking on the phone at her kitchen table) and Dada as they were known to all the family, woke up briefly to welcome us. Although I had heard many tales of her grandparents and felt like I had already known them, this was the first time I was meeting them and the first N had seen them in several years. Emotions ran high and we both felt exhilarated.
After her grandparents went back to bed, N and I were too excited to sleep.
My senses struggled to absorb every detail of my new surroundings. We sat at the absurdly long kitchen table that N had lovingly described to me so many times. It could seat 18 guests comfortably and at its center were a at least a dozen shiny steel and plastic containers, each holding a different crispy snack, tart pickle or sweet delicacy.
The room seemed at first quite plain, with stone floors and drab peeling paint on the cement walls. But, as my eyes adjusted, I realized that we were surrounded by shelf after shelf of countless glass jars that contained yet more treats and seasonings. There wasn't a square inch of space, not even a window sill, that remained bare. And when I closed my eyes, my nose knew it would be years before I'd be able to sort out all the various aromas contained in that one room.
Aunt Geeta is by nature a night owl, so she happily stayed up with us. Knowing we must be peckish after our long flight, she offered to make us a sandwich.
For each sandwich, she spread a generous amount of sweet Indian butter, far more than any doctor would recommend, on two slices of white sandwich bread. Then she slathered a layer of spicy coriander (cilantro) chutney over the butter. Next she peeled and thinly sliced a cucumber, fanned the slices onto the bread, and showered it with salt. After putting the two slices of bread together and cutting the sandwich in half, she handed each of us our snack.
From that point on, whenever I taste one of our chutney sandwiches, I'm instantly transported to Ba's kitchen. We've adapted it to our tastes by reducing the butter and salt slightly and, during the summer, by adding a few slices of juicy tomato.
It's best accompanied by a sweet and spicy cup of masala chai (which I trust you'll never again call a "chai tea latte," right?) made with black tea, milk, turbinado sugar, ginger, cardamom and a touch of black pepper.
Click "continue" for the simple recipe for coriander chutney, which can be prepared in just minutes in a blender, food processor, or ideally, a Sumeet Multi-Grind.
(yields about 1/2 cup chutney)
1 bunch fresh coriander (more commonly known in US as cilantro)
1/4 c mint leaves, loosely packed
1-2 small cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 serrano chiles, chopped (seeds and all)
2-3 t lemon juice
1/2 t Kosher salt
1 T peanut butter or roasted peanuts
Wash the cilantro and pull off and discard the bigger stems below the leaves, while reserving the leaves and tender stems. You should end up with about 3 cups of cilantro, loosely packed. Combine everything in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth, stopping from time to time to scrape the sides of the blender/food processor. If not using a Sumeet Multi Grind, you may need to add a tablespoon of water or peanut oil to get the chutney to blend properly. Taste to make sure you have the balance of spiciness, garlickiness, sourness, and saltiness that you desire and adjust accordingly. Remember that you want it to be boldly seasoned if you are using it as a sandwich spread. It also should be thick and spreadable.
You can also omit the peanut butter and thin the chutney with a 1/4 cup of yogurt to make a dipping sauce for samosas, pakoras or papad.