When chef Floyd Cardoz emigrated from Goa, India, to New York, his love for flavorful and fiery fruit chutney came with him. Though largely unfamiliar to American eaters at the time, local offerings were mostly saccharinely sweet. And so when opening Tabla in 1998, Cardoz looked to create a chutney that would delight his diners' with how delicious the condiment could be.
"My philosophy with any chutney is that, like all good food, it should be balanced," Cardoz says from his restaurant, Paowalla. "It should have sweet, salty, spicy, sour and bitter elements. Fruit chutney should be able to be eaten with a bunch of things. It should enhance without taking away from something else."
Traditional lime chutney was out of the question—local limes were far too thick skinned. Mango was drastically overdone. And so Cardoz looked to lemons, realizing their bitterness required a thorough salt preservation before they could be transformed. "This chutney enhances a bunch of things—not necessarily only to be eaten as a chutney," he says of his versatile preserved lemon chutney (see the recipe). "That's what I love about it."
After a two-week salt preservation, Cardoz cooks down chopped lemons with sugar, vinegar, coriander, chile, nigella, fennel and mustard. The final product is tender and translucent lemons coated in a thick syrup, yielding an almost-meaty texture. A bite first offers a slight bitterness. Then it opens to sweetness, acid and salt. Finally, warm spices hit. "Then it comes back and starts all over again," Cardoz says.
Here are some of Cardoz's favorite ways to incorporate that flavor in as many dishes possible. "It's the best chutney for everything," he promises.
Whisk 4 tablespoons of preserved lemon chutney with 2 cups of Greek yogurt, ¼ teaspoon of toasted black ground pepper and 1 tablespoon of chopped dill. Then serve it alongside crudités like cucumbers, radishes, baby turnips and carrots. "It makes it taste so refreshing, and the dill gives it a bitterness that you just wanna eat more [of]," Cardoz says.
Purée 1 tablespoon of chutney, then combine it with ½ cup olive or canola oil and ¼ cup Champagne vinegar. Shake well, and you've got an excellent dressing for a salad of soft greens like butter or Bibb lettuce, or sturdier greens like romaine. Top with light-flavored proteins like shrimp, chicken, salmon or whitefish.
Purée ¼ cup of chutney with fresh tarragon, and then mix it with 1 cup of bread crumbs, salt, pepper and a few tablespoons of canola oil. Rub the marinade into the flesh side of any fish and grill in the oven. "Tarragon works well with both fish and lemon, so it pulls the two flavors together," Cardoz says of the marinade, which makes a crunchy and bright crust in a cinch.
Remove 1 cup's worth of whole lemons from the chutney (don't use the liquid) and dice them. Mix the lemons with a cup of boiled chickpeas, some chopped fresh mint and chopped fresh chile peppers, and fold all into 4 cups of cooked couscous.
It's a side that especially complements a full-flavored dish like roast lamb. "Lemon, lamb and mint work really well together," Cardoz promises. "The contrast of flavors in the chutney hold up against the lamb, so use it all together or use the chutney straight up as a condiment."
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