This Afghan-Style Chutney Is the Anchor of My Condiment Collection
A jar of green sauce held a permanent spot on the counter of Yasameen and Sheilla Sajady's childhood kitchen. The Minneapolis natives and their two other siblings put the green chutney, made by their mother, Fatima, on nearly everything they ate. One day it dawned on Yasameen and Sheilla: This stuff is amazing and everyone needs to know about it. So together they created the brand Maazah (which means "flavor" in Farsi) which now sells three types of Afghan-style chutney and they're each irresistible.
In Afghanistan, where the Sajady sisters' parents grew up, green chutney is a ubiquitous condiment. Similar to Indian cilantro-mint chutney, it's typically a blend of cilantro, jalapeño, vinegar, walnuts, cumin, and ginger. The exact ingredients vary from home to home, but some variation of it is found on every table.
When Yasameen and Sheilla worked with Fatima to create a recipe they wanted to honor tradition as much possible - while also trying to figure out their mother's measurements. "My mom didn't measure anything, and she still doesn't measure anything," laughs Yasameen. "When we started, it was like, no, you can't just add salt like this. We need to measure out every single ingredient. So it took a little while. And then our mom, obviously she's the inspiration of the whole brand, and her effortlessness is exactly what we're trying to capture."The key ingredient that their mother added to the chutney was fresh ginger. "The moment that clicked for us was when she added fresh ginger to her recipe, and then we were like, oh my God, this takes this sauce to the whole next level," says Yasameen.
The recipe they created together is now Maazah's original chutney: A combination of cilantro, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, serrano peppers, jalapeño peppers, ginger, garlic, and sea salt. The flavor is citrusy and bright with a healthy amount of zest, the color is an alluring shade of hunter green. The slightly liquid consistency lends itself to dolloping as much as it does spreading. The Maazah lineup also includes a hot version of the chutney with the same ingredients but more heat and a vegan aioli that's creamy and ideal as a spread in sandwiches.
They started bottling Maazah in Yasameen's kitchen in 2014 where they would package up 25 jars at a time and sell them at farmers markets around Minneapolis. At the time, Yasameen worked in social entrepreneurship while Sheilla was doing marketing for a national retailer (where she still works full-time). "We were able to get really great customer feedback. A range of 'Oh my God, this is the best thing I've ever had.' to 'It tastes like grass,'" says Yasameen. After a few years of tweaking the recipe they knew were ready to take their product to the national level. "I think we've had so much success at farmer's markets and success with our local co-ops and local retailers here that we're like, okay, I think we're about ready to start sharing it outside of this and seeing kind of how it goes from there," says Yasameen.
For Yasameen and Sheilla, the sauce is more than just a sauce. On one level it's been a way for them to stay connected as a family. Their sister Nasreen, a microbiologist by day, helped them scale the recipe. Fatima, says Yasameen, is quality control and the person who helps develop new flavors. And their dad and brother are on standby. "We've called them for emergencies like, we need to make 800 bottles. Can you come do the dishes?" Yasameen laughs.
Maazah has also been a way for the Sajady sisters to connect others to their Afghan culture through food. "I think just growing up in the Midwest in Minnesota is challenging. Right? When there's not other people that look like you or eat like you or talk like you," says Yasameen. "So I think this has been a way for other people to connect with our culture and our food, but also for us to connect with our culture and our food."
When Yasameen and Sheilla go to family gatherings everyone asks them how the chutney business is going. They all love Maazah, but have one request: Make it spicier. "We call it Minnesota Hot," says Sheilla. "We have some uncles that will take our chutney and then they'll have a hot pepper on their plate that they'll eat with their meals," says Yasameen.
So what's the best way to enjoy this tangy green sauce? Lately, Sheilla has been into grilling brussels sprouts and drizzling the aioli chutney on top. You also can't go wrong with putting it on your breakfast sandwich. When it comes to the original or hot chutney, try it on fish tacos, loaded baked potatoes, or use it as a marinade for shrimp. "You can literally put this on anything. A fresh flavor to whatever you're eating, and you don't have to keep raw ginger or mince garlic or have fresh herbs in your kitchen because we already did that stuff for you," says Yasameen.