I normally consider spiciness an optional factor: you don't have to if you don't want to, but if you like it, go crazy on the chillies. However, as far as this chutney is concerned, spiciness is compulsory. The hot taste of chillies balances the delicate taste of the aubergine and gets rid of the bitterness of the vinegar. In other words, if you don’t like spicy food, don’t make this. But if you do like it, then definitely make a batch of this to last you all winter!
1 kg aubergines – the thin elongated kind is best for this
500 g onions
4 tablespoons salt
175 g caster sugar
350 ml cider vinegar
75 g sultanas
1 tablespoon tomato puree
5 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 red chillies finely chopped and without any of the seeds
juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon freshly chopped mint leaves
Slice the aubergines as thinly as you can, the sprinkle with the salt and put the in a colander. Cover them with a sheet of parchment paper and put some weight on it: jam jars, bricks, books, anything goes. This will drive all the bitter black juices out of the aubergine slices, making them ready for cooking. After about 3 hours, take them out, rinse them in abundant cold water and chop them up. I like to make squares of about 2 inch-side with one half of the aubergines, and chop the rest into very very small pieces (a quick blitz in the food processor achieved the same goal faster). You can have it all chunky or all creamy or change the proportions as you please.
Meanwhile, put the sugar, vinegar, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, sultanas and tomato puree into a large saucepan, mix and leave to stand for half an hour.
Blitz the onions though the food processor until they are very creamy, and add them to the saucepan with the chillies and the cut up aubergines.
Heat it up until the sugar is dissolved, then let the whole thing simmer for 20 minutes, or until all the ingredients are soft and have absorbed all the flavours. Add the lime juice and the mint, then pour into the sterilised jars.
This is simply glorious with cheese, both fresh and strong. I especially like it with a large chunk of white cow ricotta, a slice of toasted bread and a couple of giant green olives. It is also good with delicate meats such as lamb, rabbit or poultry, and makes a fantastic dipping sauce for hard strong cheeses like extra-mature cheddar. Simply mix a cup of chutney with half a cup of hot water and half a cup of lemon juice. This is a perfect party snack, in a bowl garnished with mint leaves and surrounded by cubes of strong cheese on sticks.