Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Clutter and Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney.

Today's weather is hopeless. The sky is the same color at 3 PM as it was at 7 AM, and the wind, rain, tiny bits of hail, and thunder have reminded me constantly all day that it is Spring at long last - even if there will be no playing around outside today to confirm it. Knowing that tonight's dinner would be made up of leftovers, I decided this rainy day was as good a time as any to go through some recipe clutter.

The last time I sat down with a stack of recipes to attempt organization with was before the Boy-O was born into the world. I remember, because the idea of not going to work was still new, and I sat quietly at my kitchen table for an entire 8 hours editing and paring down, going through magazines and stowing only the things I knew I would make. My ruthlessness was shocking, and very difficult for me, but I did clear stacks of paper and nicely arrange everything first into page protectors and then on into 3-ring binders.

As I started this bright idea early this morning, I immediately noticed that my cooking life has changed dramatically in the past 4 years. Home life is no longer new, the once new idea of extra time is now habitually on my side. My older self despises collecting anything new and shutters at the thought of (although I feel like I still have plenty of it) clutter. Looking over the loose pages of things to categorize and file I realized that I cook differently than I used to. I may plan something around what I have a taste for once in a week, but I rarely follow recipes anymore, preferring instead to see what needs using up and then throwing something together.

That isn't to say that little pictures or the many pages of things I looked through today don't spark my interests. I've let all of my magazine subscriptions expire, mostly just because I know it's difficult for me to pare down, not because I don't enjoy them. I do miss things in print, in my real hands. I do not miss stacks of pages that start taking over my kitchen, making me feel harried and stressed out.

In the midst of a paper pile, I found several Everyday Food pages - remnants of a subscription I got (for super cheap) 2 years ago. I would have had no recollection of this date chutney, but I count it fortuitously to my advantage that it chose to resurface just before Easter since it is recommended to be eaten atop chicken, pork loin, or ham. Given my predisposition to lacto-ferment almost anything that strikes my fancy lately, I decided to give this condiment the same treatment. I tasted it prior to packing it up into the jar, and let me tell you, the Easter Ham that will be on the table at my Parents house this weekend never seemed so far away. I have a pretty good suspicion that this will be tremendous on sandwiches as well.

I had exactly 8 oz. of dates to use up, and modified the recipe to approximate what I thought would just about fill a pint canning jar. (I used weights, since I find it impossible to accurately measure dates in a measuring cup, but you can pretty much use any amount and come up with something tasty.) My pint jar was shy of the top about 2 inches, and I could increase things a bit more for the next go around. Make this as spicy as you like, I left it on the somewhat mild side, figuring that I can amp up my heat with candied jalapenos - something I add to almost anything I eat. Don't let the lacto-fermenting stop you from making this, either... just omit the whey and add more vinegar and eat within 3 weeks as Everyday Food suggests.

Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney (adapted from Everyday Food)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 chile de arbol
  • 1 t. brown mustard seed
  • 6 oz. dates, chopped
  • 1 oz. raisins, chopped (I used dark Thompson raisins, but you could use golden raisins as suggested in the original recipe)
  • 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste (about 1/2 t.)
  • 1/2 c. (plus extra if needed) water
  • 1 T. cider vinegar (like Braggs)
  • 1 1/2 T. whey
Heat the olive oil in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan over medium-high heat along with the minced garlic. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add onion and arbol chile and saute until onion just softens and begins to turn color, about 4 minutes.

Add the mustard seed, saute about 1 minute until the seeds start to pop.

Add the dates, raisins, salt, cayenne, water and vinegar, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and keep at a simmer for about 5-10 minutes to evaporate most of the water and soften the dates. (I kept the pan covered for about half of the time.) Add additional water as needed so that the chutney maintains the consistency that you prefer, a bit on the thick side was how I liked it.

Remove from heat, and cool to room temperature.

Add whey, and stir to combine. Add additional water to adjust consistency, and taste for final seasoning. Pack into a clean pint jar, and seal tightly. Let sit at room temperature for 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

The finished chutney tasted amazing... actually figgy and bacony. I assume this was because I used the garlic and onion, but really, I was surprised. The spiciness of the cayenne (and maybe that lone chile de arbol) was fleeting against the sweet dates and raisins. I can't wait a few days to try it again, but I will (unlike the last time, when I polished off the Nigella-Like Salsa within three days). I have a feeling it will age well, and will top off a ham sandwich like nobody's business.

It seems I'm all about lacto-fermenting the condiments lately. Two days ago, I turned some leftover ancho chile sauce that I made for enchiladas into a chile ketchup of sorts - adding lots of toasted, re-hydrated guajillo and arbol chiles and some ketchupy spices... I have another day or so to wait before tasting it again, and I'll try and add some additional spice and maybe some vinegar then. So far, the deep brick red of it has not persuaded me to open the jar and taste it - though it's not without considerable restraint on my part.

It seems I don't get voraciously hungry until Summer - and understandably so. I'm much more active, the foods available are fresh and readily growing thus more appealing. Meanwhile, I'm eating through the stores of last year, mainly my freezer, and adding scoops of insanely appealing lacto-ferment stuff to almost every meal. Days like this remind me to be thankful: the ground will wake up and warm up, and maybe I'll be a better gardener this year than last. With the last of the organization on the table, I should be better mannered now that I, generally speaking, do not add any more to the pile. I can only hope to remain so well-behaved.

Lacto-Fermented Date Chutney on Punk   Domestics


  1. I've been slowly letting subscriptions die. My mother got me a new one, and I had to restrain myself in scolding her. (But jeez, Ma, it's Vanity Fair for crying out loud! I'm going to have to immediately recycle it. It's disgusting.) And the rain here just cleared and the sun is coming out. No one ever promised us April would be fun, right?
    And goodness, lest I digress further: that date chutney looks great. I like your style. But then you knew that!

  2. I cannot wait to try this! I have the ingredients on the grocery list. I plan on making this for a food swap I am attending.
    It's the second one of a relatively new event here.
    It is such a good geek out! I highly recommend starting one in your area even amongst friends as it is such a good idea. Anyway I was wondering what kind of dates you used. Our co-op sells them dried and fresh. I prefer the fresh variety well because they are fresh! The co-op offers three kinds, medjool,Neglet Noor and some other kind,that eludes me as of now.Having them all I much prefer the medjool dates. Thanks again for a great recipe.

  3. Ah! I just reread recipe and figured out that they must be dried due to the rehydration step. Still a little too early in the morning for me!

  4. H: that event sounds great! I did use dried dates- medjool, I think... They had been sitting around for awhile and were drier than dates fresh out of the bin, but they still worked fine. I'm making a sandwich just now with the chutney, since I'm traveling back home today- I really love how it turned out! Hope you enjoy it too!

  5. Hey it's me again! Sorry for all the comments! I made this three days ago and today is the day it goes into cold storage but I have a few questions. My pint jar was packed to the top and when I opened it today it didn't have mold(good thing) but it also didn't have more liquid or any other sign of ferment that had taken place as my other fermented projects do. So I guess the question is does it change in appearance from the time it starts fermenting to the end? I am worried that since I had more volume then you that I should have increased my whey. I also weighed my dates after pitting them to get 8 ounces.

  6. No problem, H...

    I find with most lacto-fermented stuff that the appearance doesn't change so much. With this date chutney in particular, I didn't see much change. In fact, I still have some, and didn't notice a ton of flavor change during this past month either... leading me to believe that it
    is indeed fermented to preserve it that long.

    Some things that are less "chunky" (that Lima bean hummus that I fermented recently), actually will bubble up! I didn't see that after the first day, but after several days went by in the fridge, I could hear the gasses escaping when I unscrewed the lid and the bean dip actually had that faint carbonated taste! The things I've seen the most noticeable activity in have been sauerkraut and salsas, both of which have more liquid than this chutney.

    Hope this helps - at least a little! And, I hope you enjoyed the flavor!


  7. Thank you! Yes it helps and like I said no mold which is a good thing. I will try it later on some grilled raw milk provolone sandwiches. I just finished one of my best batches of sauerkraut and that baby had some bubbles not as much as my kimchi does but it had some! Oh I am planning to make those peanut butter cookies in the next few minutes. I am grinding my peanut butter now! That Peter Reinhart loaf you made looks amazing!


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