What do you do with a 4 pounds box of plums? Plums that hadn’t caught your family’s fantasy in a fruit bowl on the dining table? I got one box full from Costco last week and was struck with the 21 deep red lustrous stone fruits in it. One was neatly sliced and offered to the Daddy-lil girl duo for brekky on a spring day off. They weren’t amused! That poor plum wasn’t sweet enough and caused quite some mouth-puckering. Well, it made them sulk every next time I would ask if they’d like a plum from that box.
Long story short, I was left with one plum less from that 4 pounds box…which made the count 20 even. Nonetheless, it more than the plum-load I could handle for “use-me-up-in-a-recipe-please”! I wasn’t in a mood to bake. Thought cooking them will be more fun. But where was a recipe? I had never cooked plums all my life. Poached plums? That stew or the compote? But wouldn’t an Indian plum recipe make it all interesting? I was in need of some serious quick-fix food troubleshooting?
Well, the best thing to do when in a kitchen crisis is to always call your mom. Always. That is the rule of the thumb. My thumb! So, the first call was made straight to Ma in India. One always has this unflickering faith in a Mom…that she can pull you out of any situation…that she has more help to offer you than you may think.
Ma said cooking plums wasn’t very common in a Bengali household and that she can’t remember if she had made them ever. Baba took over the phone and spoke at length about the delectable “Aloo Bukhara or Plum Chutney” his Mom, my Granma (I called her Kuma) made when he was young. He said she made it often for her kin.
I unfortunately have no memories of Kuma’s Aloo Bukhara chutney. By the time I grew up and developed a culinary fondness, she was too old and weak, and managed only some cooking. Been six years she passed on. However, I have had Kuma’s food and I know it. There’s this certain aura of flavors that she brought through her cooking. The simmered aromas from our family’s heirloom recipes, which she gently and most caringly preserved in her fare.
No, Kuma’s culinary heritage cannot be lost. I wasn’t letting it go like this. Someone in the family should know something. Baba suggested my Choto Pishi (my youngest paternal aunt), his big sister and the youngest of the three sisters he has. So it grew from a gastronomic crisis to a couple curious recipe seeking calls. Choto Pishi became my moral center of the day. Since it was late my night, the recipe was phone-delivered to me next day. Ma had spoken to Pishi, written down her recipe and read it over telephone for me.
The recipe didn’t have exact measured ingredients, but was exceptionally detailed. I am thankful that Pishi had several do’s-and-don’ts, as well as tips and tricks for me! Baba assured that Kuma made it very similarly for them. Often times, we don’t like to venture beyond what we’ve seen, known or learned in our family. It provides solace, the warmth we seek and a breath of the fresh air we need. I held on to the recipe dearly with much conviction.
I was the first to wake up next morning. It was 4am. I switched on the kitchen ceiling lights, then the under cabinet lights and the counter-top lights. That gush of illumination! I weighed down the recipe page with a small porcelain condiment-bowl from my cupboard. Then cautiously read what the page said. Word by word. I washed, pitted and chopped the plums with love. Next, I worked on the dates. I cooked them together, slow and steady till they were soft, mushy and diffused out their goodness whilst leisurely melting into each other. I simmered them till beautifully red and done. That followed an adoring sprinkling of some fragrantly roasted and pounded cumin seeds.
Everyone was still asleep in bed. And my kitchen was exuding out the romantic sweet spicy aroma of the plum sauce. As it’s fragrance lingered on during that sunrise, I stood quiet, my body leaning and my folded arms resting on the kitchen counter…I was silently reliving a few moments from my childhood. Isn’t that so beautiful? I dipped a fingertip into the still warm plum sauce…and stole a quick lick, straight from the frying pan, to check for seasoning. The velvety sauce tasted just right. There was a perfect balance of the four prime S-flavors that this chutney underlines – sweet, spicy, savory and teensy sour. I had not made anything so incredibly enticing in a long time.
The day then extended into the usual routine morning chores. Kids, breakfast, semi-loud television cartoon shows, chaos, a half-asleep husbandman trying hard to come in terms of the non-dreamlike realities of life…
Fast forward to supper time, and I served chilled Aloo Bukhara chutney alongside some spicy Papod or Papad, for dessert. Customarily, Bengalis love their sweet-spicy fruit or vegetable chutneys with papod. By that evening, the chutney was shared with a few visiting friends and neighbors. The chutney was slathered on toasted bread, folded and relished. I love to roll up some chutney in my roti and paratha and gobble them down in no time! A friend requested for some and ate it with a smile. He then used his fingers to mop the dessert bowl clean of any residual smear of chutney there was and licked it away. This chutney has also done amazingly well as a dip, or as a side or topping sauce.
After all the friendly feeding and sharing (and since I had only made a small batch) of the Aloo Bukhara chutney, we were almost left with none by end of the day. However, what still remained albeit a teensy bit in my kitchen was the sweet aroma of it. Isn’t that true of all timeless family food traditions? Preserve them, adore them and they will adapt to your kitchens always…
The recipe is share-worthy and certainly for a keep. I would never do a recipe the first time and blog about it or publish it here. All my recipes are tried, tested and validated in plurality before they’re posted. However, this is almost how I also do a couple other Bengali chutneys, and thus have the complete faith it takes to share this with you. The recipe is easy, simple and delightful. I am sure you’d adore this classic and ageless delicacy as much too. “M thankful to Pishi for the beautiful recipe, the delicious chutney and those precious memories that it brought back! We all loved it. And for my box of 20 plums…10 down…and 10 more remained to go!
Have a beautifully warm and sunny week you all!
Makes 6 full side servings
- 10 fresh and ripe Plums or Aloo Bukhara
- 10 pitted Medjool Dates
- 1 tbsp (about 25 to 30) golden raisins
- 2 dried Indian red chillies
- 1/4 tsp kalonji or nigella or black cumin seeds
- 1 large tejpatta or bayleaf
- 1 tsp Kashmiri red chilli powder (used for color rather than heat) — Optional
- 0.5 tsp Haldi or ground turmeric
- About 0.5 US cup (4.5 oz or 125 gm) Gur or powdered jaggery or granulated sugar
- 1 tsp cumin seeds or jeera
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp cooking oil, preferably Mustard oil
- 0.5 tbsp Atta or whole wheat flour — Optional
- Preparation: Wash, pit the plums, discard stem (if any) and chop them to about 0.5 inch cubes. Soak raisins in a bowl with about 0.5 cup lukewarm water. Slice and chop the dates.
- Heat the mustard oil in a deep frying pan on medium heat. Add the dry red chillies, bay leaf and nigella seeds (kalonji). Let them splutter for a quick couple seconds.
- Quickly add the chopped plums and dates. Add a little salt and turmeric.
- Cover cook on medium heat for about 20 minutes. Stir and mix contents mid-way.
- Open the pan lid and cook for 2 more minutes on low-medium heat to get rid of excess moisture.
- Spoon out the raisins and add them to the plum sauce in the pan. Add the Kashmir red chilli powder and Gur/jaggery (If jaggery isn’t available, use sugar.) Mix the pan contents and stir. I do not like my chutney too sweet. Add more gur or sugar if you prefer yours sweeter.
- By now the plums and dates should be soft and very mushy. (If not, cover cook for a couple more minutes.) Stab and press down the plum chunks slightly for a chunky, yet thick bodied chutney. You may use a mixing ladle or potato masher for this purpose.
- In a small bowl, mix the whole wheat flour in 1.5 to 2 tbsp water and whisk so there aren’t any floury lumps. Add this mixture to the chutney in the pan and simmer cook for about 1 minute. (This would thicken the chutney sauce and give it a fuller consistency and texture.) Take the pan off from heat.
- Toast the cumin seeds on another clean, dry pan over medium heat. Stir and toast till done and fragrant. Pound to reduce the seeds to semi-fine dust in a mortar and pestle. (You may also dry grind the seeds to a rather fine powder if you like.) Mix the ground toasted cumin seeds in the chutney for a delectable aroma and flavor. Check taste for optimal salt, sweet and other seasoning.
- Pick out the bayleaf and dried red chillies from the chutney and discard. Serve the chutney chilled, warm or at room temperature with anything and everything. This plum chutney is brilliant condiment and can be consumed as a dip, dessert, side, chunky sauce, topping or a spread. Jar them beautifully and you’ve got one homemade priceless little present for your loved ones. Enjoy the yum!
- This chutney does not need a lot of salt. I could do with 1 tsp salt for my chutney. Also, the amount of gur or sugar you add, depends a lot on the sweetness of the ripe plums you use. If you are using sugar, you may have to add a little less than the amount of gur you may otherwise add.
- My aunt soaks the chopped plums in some water for about 20 to 30 minutes. She says it helps them soften readily and reduces the cooking time.
- Make this a gift: This chutney can be neatly filled in a mason jar, adorned and it’ll make a great present for family and friends!
- Storage: It can be refrigerated in air tight food grade containers for 7 to 10 days. You may also portion and freeze them in freezer safe food containers for later use. It keeps very well in a freezer for up to 3 months.
- Vegan plum chutney: Skip using the whole wheat flour mixture.
- Substitutes and changes: For non-spicy version, skip the spices altogether. You may also substitute the gur or sugar for any other sweetener you prefer. For a smooth chutney, discard the bay leaf plus the dry red chillies and blend the chutney to a smooth sauce.
- Canning: You may can and seal them per canning instructions, and store the jars at room temperature for up to a couple months. Once opened, they’ll need to be refrigerated and consumed in a few days.
- Together the turmeric, the red chilli powder and the jaggery peps up the bright red color of this chutney and intensifies/enhances the color. Using sugar may not yield a very deep red though.