An Onion Chutney with spicy, sweet, tangy notes, perfect to eat with a South Indian dosa or idli, to add to a wrap, or to spread on toast. A vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free recipe.
This Onion Chutney, a very traditional South Indian recipe, is one of Desi’s favorite sides for dosa or idli. But I smear it on just about anything, from a breakfast wrap to toast. Because it is just so delicious and so versatile.
I have to thank a reader, Ellen, for prompting me to post this recipe. It is likely that many of you, like Ellen, have eaten this chutney at a restaurant and wondered what’s in there because it tastes so rich and complex and flavorful.
The answer, and the recipe, are actually rather simple: there are onions in here, of course, along with tamarind, red pepper, mustard seeds, and curry leaves. That’s it. But technique is important: it is the caramelizing of the onions that gives the chutney its intense flavor and complexity, so don’t get stingy with your effort here.
I actually use shallots to make this recipe, because they have a more intense flavor that works very well here. You could use red onions at a pinch.
This is a spicy chutney, the way it’s supposed to be to complement a bland dosa or idli, but if you are not comfortable with spice, cut down on the amount of red pepper. Don’t cut it out altogether, though, because you do need the pungent heat of pepper to complement the sweetness of the onions and the tang of the tamarind.
I served this chutney for a Saturday brunch with my Instant Masala Dosa and Potato Curry. It was delicious.
I remembered to take some step-by-step shots of the cooking process to clarify the technique.
- 6 shallots, finely sliced
- 1 1/2 tsp coconut or other vegetable oil
- 2 dry red chili peppers
- 1 tbsp jarred tamarind pulp (if you get yours from an Indian store, the tamarind pulp is thicker and you need less of it. If you buy the tamarind pulp sold for use in southeast Asian recipes, which tends to be less concentrated, you might need two tablespoons)
- Salt to taste
- 1 tsp black mustard seeds
- 1 sprig (about 12) fresh curry leaves, cut into ribbons
- 1 tsp udad dal or black gram dal
Heat 1 tsp of oil in a skillet. Add the shallots and the red chili peppers and a pinch of salt. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are caramelized.
Add the tamarind and continue to saute for another couple of minutes.
Remove the onions to a blender and add 1/4 cup of water and season with salt as needed. Blend into a smooth paste. If you need to add more water to blend, add no more than a teaspoon at a time. Remove the chutney to a bowl.
In the same skillet used to caramelize the onions, add the remaining 1/2 tsp of oil. Add the mustard seeds and, when they sputter, add the udal dal and curry leaves. Stir-fry for a few more seconds until the dal turns lightly golden.
Pour the mustard-udad dal mixture over the chutney and mix.
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