The chutney or chammanthi elevates the taste of food, just like that spicy achaar with a bowl of dal chawal. In Kerala, we have a variety of chammanthis made to complement different dishes. I remember as children when we vacationed with my grandparents in Kerala, the day would start with two items for breakfast. My grandparents needed their fix of kanji (rice gruel) and the rest of the family wanted some palaharam that was either idli or dosa or rawa / godambu upma or godambu or aree podi puttu or appam. We children were encouraged to eat both by our grandparents. They would offer all the accompaniments as enticement - the regular fixture - chammanthi, next papadam, add to that thoren and not to miss the kadumaangaa or any uppilittathu. Actually, I did not need much coaxing - I loved it, but it was nice to have muthachan and ammumma encouraging us. For me, the best combination was hot kanji with a bit of ghee and salt and lots of chammanthi in the side plate. The chammanthi was especially yum if made by my P ammayi. It was a simple coconut-green chilli-curry leaves ground on the ammikalu (grinding stone) with mango when in season. The slightly ripe mango elevated the chammanthi to ambrosial heights. Just thinking of that chammanthi makes my mouth water.
Today, I bring you a simple Ulli chammanthi that goes very well with idli and complements the coconut chutney. Ulli chammanthi is made in a lot of ways in Kerala, one version uses the cheriya ulli / sambhar onions / shallots simply crushed with green chillies to go with boiled kappa (tapioca). The one I am making today has savaalla ulli (onions / pyaz) and dry red chillies as the main ingredients. Without much ado, lets go to the recipe.
Onions - 2 medium
Kashmiri dry red chillies - 7-8 or Red chilli powder - 1 tbsp.
Coconut Oil - 1 tbsp
Curry leaves - about 8-10 crushed and torn to pieces by hand
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Chop the onions roughly. Grind the red chillies and the onions to a fine paste with a little salt and keep aside. Heat a kadai, add the coconut oil and when it is hot add the mustard seeds. Once the mustard has spluttered add the curry leaves and stir with spoon. Add the ground onion - red chilli paste and mix it well. Keep the heat on low to medium and stir it on and off so that it doesn't stick to the bottom. Taste it for salt at this stage and add some if required. When the oil starts leaving the sides and the mix starts coming together take it off the gas and serve it!
Pair this chammanthi with idli, it really complements the blandness of idli. Enjoy!