June 2011Prepared Foods – Anyone who has dined at a trendy American restaurant or one of the increasingly popular ethnic eateries is no stranger to the dazzling display of spice-laden condiments available these days. Chefs are garnishing plates with tasty little mounds of spicy-chutneys, bright relishes, fruit catsups and other intriguing accompaniments. It is an easy way of adding pizzazz to the simplest grilled foods or the finishing touch to a more complex dish.

Most condiments have their roots in distant lands. Pickles, relishes, catsups, sambals, salsas and chutneys--practically every country has its own versions.For example, all-American tomato catsup evolved quite dramatically from the original Asian, salty fish-based sauce: called ketsiapin China, kechap in Malaysia and ketjap in Indonesia.

Even in their home country of India, chutneys are a varied lot, although usually based on chunky combinations of fruits and vegetables, and flavored with warm aromatic spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves and allspice. Case in point: peppered tomato chutney. It starts with fresh tomatoes and apples, which are simmered with mouth-tingling ginger, black and red peppers, and all-spice. Dried apricots and brown sugar add a sweet note and vinegar a tart balance. This will enhance everything from curries, roasted meats and game to grilled foods, vegetarian dishes and seafood.

Fiery green mango chutney starts with unripe or green mangoes, which are used primarily in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Cumin, fennel, coriander and mustard seeds are sauteéd in oil, along with dried red chilies, garlic and ginger; the sauteéing really brings out the flavor of spices. Vinegar is used again to provide the tangy balance to the slightly sweet, almost citrusy taste of green mangoes and fiery hot peppers.

Another condiment, Southwestern corn relish, goes perfectly with this country’s obsession with Mexican, Tex-Mex and Southwestern cuisine. It is a fresh, colorful, spicy combination of corn and tomatoes, made smoky and earthy with toasted cumin and coriander seeds—pungent with oregano, garlic and onion and zippy with crushed red pepper. Olive oil smooths out the flavors and piquant lime juice and cilantro add just the right balance of acidity and freshness. pf

Pilot recipes for these sweet and spicy, well-traveled condiments had originally been adapted exclusively for Prepared Foodsby the test kitchen of the American Spice Trade Assoc. (FR1096)

4 lbs tomatoes, peeled and chopped (about 10 cups)
2 lbs tart green apples, peeled, cored and chopped (about 6 cups)
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2-cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2-tsp ground red pepper
1/2-tsp allspice

In a Dutch oven or saucepot, combine tomatoes, apples, apricots, brown sugar, vinegar, ginger, salt, allspice, black pepper and red pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium; cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until mixture has thickened, 55-60 minutes. Cool; refrigerate in a covered container up to 2 months, or ladle into canning jars and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Yield: 7 cups

* To test for thickness, spoon about 1 tbsp mixture into a cup; place in the freezer for 5 minutes. The mixture should have the consistency of jam. If not, cook longer and retest.