Condiments are proof that life is good. They are the unsung heroes that add sparkle and zest, or crunch and color. They can elevate a one-note food to an elegant string quartet. The magical powers of condiments give me enduring hope. After all, the condiment and whatever it enhances add up to more than sum of their parts. Each alone? Not so much. But together? Much! You see? The potential sits latent in our refrigerators and pantries. All we need to do is break out (or concoct) the right condiment, and we can generate goodness where there was none before. Condiments are like optimism in a bottle.
I come by my love of condiments honestly. My mother carried a bottle of Tabasco around with her always. It nestled with her calendar, wallet, and makeup in the giant Coach bag she was never without. When she was out and about, and ordered food that turned out to be boring, she would dive into that whale-sized bag, come up with the familiar red-capped bottle, give it a few shakes, and sprinkle some life onto her ho-hum fare.
To my way of thinking, lots of foods are pretty much just vehicles for condiments. Consider the hot dog. The corn chip. The Thanksgiving turkey. Gasp! Blasphemy, I know. Don’t get me wrong. Turkey is okay. But it’s the piles of side dishes and splashes of condiment encircling the bird that keep me coming back. Isn’t it really the gravy that makes the turkey worth eating? Or is it the cranberry chutney?
You can make this chutney a week in advance. And hey, Thanksgiving is next week! The chutney gets better the longer it sits. It’s quick. It’s easy. It screams magenta. That’s a lot of fine qualities for a condiment to have, right? Best of all, this chutney packs a three-ring circus of flavor. The cranberries are their shockingly tart red selves. The onions remain unapologetically oniony. But together they are tamed and enriched by a perfect complement of vinegar, sugar, ginger, chili flakes, and garlic.
Cranberry chutney adds some dazzle to pork or poultry. It also makes a festive appetizer dolloped on a cracker with cream cheese. And though I haven’t tested this yet, I suspect it will make an ordinary leftover turkey sandwich into yet another heartening reminder of life’s potential for goodness.
CRANBERRY CHUTNEY – inspired by this recipe in Gourmet
makes about two cups
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 ounces shallots (about two whole medium-sized shallots), peeled and sliced thinly
½ teaspoon chili flakes
12 ounces fresh cranberries
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 ½ teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan.
Add shallots and chili flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft, about fifteen minutes.
Add all the other ingredients and stir. Reduce heat until the chutney is barely simmering. Simmer for fifteen more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Chutney can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a week or more.