coconut chutney

Nik Sharma

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coconut chutney | Nik S

Just like dosas, there are a variety of coconut chutneys (as well as other accompaniments and condiments) with a thousand variations that might differ in how they’re made and the ingredients. This is a version I make at home, called thengai chutney (I take a few liberties with it and traditionalists might scoff a little but it works well). You will need fresh or frozen unsweetened coconut (Indian stores carry them in the frozen section) to prepare it, desiccated coconut (even when reconstituted with hot water) never gives the same pleasant mouthfeel. I usually pick a few backs of frozen coconut and stick them in my freezer till needed.

Kitchen Notes

  • Warm water helps the fat in the coconut melt and aids with grinding. Of course the coconut is the major flavor and textural component here but in my opinion, the curry leaves, mustard seeds, and ginger are what give this coconut chutney its unique flavor.

  • There are two dals used in this recipe – the first one is the lentil called channa dal or split gram lentils. This is first toasted and then ground with the coconut to form a smooth paste. It adds flavor. I leave this out if I don’t have any at home and the chutney still tastes good.

  • The second dal is the urad/udad beans (dal) which can be skipped if you don’t want to use it. It adds a unique aroma when used to prepare the tadka while adding a crunchy texture. These were used to make the dosa batter. You can use skinned whole or split urad beans, my personal preference is for the whole which is what I’ve shown here. I use a lower heat for the tadka, this allows the urad seeds to cook thoroughly in the oil and lowers the risk of the spices burning.

  • Use fresh curry leaves and black or brown mustard seeds. Do not use yellow mustard seeds.

  • Rinse curry leaves under cold tap water, rub them gently with a clean kitchen towel to remove any debris and remove any water. This will help clean the leaves and reduce hot oil from flying out of the pan when the leaves get into the saucepan.

  • The fresh green chillies you can play with, use less or more or pick a hotter variety. You have lots of options to try – Serrano, jalapeño, Thai chillies, etc.

  • The dried red chillies are used to flavor the oil and also add a bit of color. Capsaicin the heat generating molecule in chillies is fat-soluble pigment which leaches into the hot oil, giving it flavor. You can use almost any kind of dried red chilli here, I use Kashmiri (Indian Store or online).

  • A high speed blender or food processor will get the job done well.

  • Coconut degrades quite rapidly, hence the shorter length of time for storage in the refrigerator. But this chutney can be frozen for up to one week in an airtight container.

  • To do the tadka, use a small saucepan. The high sides of the saucepan prevent things from flying all over the place, mustard seeds pop and some will inevitably jump out of the pan.

  • Sometimes, my mom will add 1 to 2 Tbsp of fresh lime juice. Other folk might add a bit of tamarind or yogurt to add a spot of brightness.

thengai/coconut chutney

makes about 2 cups [480 ml]


1 Tbsp split gram lentils (channa dal)

2 cups [ g] packed fresh or frozen unsweetened grated coconut (if using frozen, thaw before use)

1 Tbsp peeled and grated fresh ginger

2 fresh green chillies

1/2 [120 ml] lukewarm water (you might not use all of it or might you need a bit more, I recommend keeping a kettle filled with water on hand)

fine sea salt

1 dried red chilli (I used a whole Kashmiri)

1 Tbsp coconut oil

2 tsp black or brown mustard seeds

1 tsp skinned urad beans (aka urad/udad dal), split or whole (I used whole here)

10 to 12 fresh curry leaves

Heat a small dry saucepan over medium heat. Add the split gram lentils to the pan and toast the seeds until they start to release their aroma and start to toast a light brown, about 2 minutes.

Add the toasted split gram lentils with the coconut, ginger, and chilli to the blender. Pulse till you get a smooth purée, add a few Tbsp of warm water at a time to help grind the ingredients. Taste and add salt as needed. Transfer the coconut mixture to a serving bowl.

Using a knife or kitchen shears, cut the dried chilli in half across it’s length leaving the stalk end intact. Wipe down the saucepan used earlier, heat the oil over low heat. Keep a lid wide enough to cover the saucepan next to you. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds, dried chilli, and urad beans and swirl the pan and cook till the seeds turn golden brown, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add the curry leaves, cover with a lid, and cook for an additional 30 seconds till the leaves crisp, all the while making sure the seeds don’t turn dark black or brown (that will leave a bitter taste, if that happens, discard the entire spiced oil mixture and repeat). Pour the hot seasoned oil mixture will all the spices and curry leaves over the coconut mixture in the bowl. Stir a little and serve with the dosas. This chutney is good for up to 2 to 3 days if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or in the freezer.

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