MAKES: About 11/2 cups

TIME: 45 minutes

This recipe harnesses the richness of onions cooked until they’re dark and sweet to create a strongly flavored, almost smoky condiment. In fact, if you plan in advance or if you’re going to be serving this chutney with a meal off the grill, grill the onions (see the variation).

1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, sliced

Salt

1 tablespoon neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

1 jalapeo or other fresh green chile (optional)

1 fresh hot red chile, stemmed

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon brown sugar

Put the onions in a large skillet over medium heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are dry and almost sticking to the pan, about 20 minutes. Add a large pinch of salt and all the remaining ingredients except the sugar and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onions brown, at least 15 minutes more.

Stir the sugar into the onion mixture, then transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor and process until nearly smooth; taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Variations

Grilled Onion Chutney. Definitely a step up if you have the time: Cut the onions into thick slices and brush with the oil; impale each disk of onion on a wooden skewer so they won’t fall through the grate. Cook over low or indirect heat until very soft and nearly charred, about 20 minutes, while toasting the spices in a dry skillet on the stove (see Nuts and Seeds). Proceed with the recipe.

Caramelized Fennel Chutney. Sweet and rich: Replace the onions with 1 or 2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons oil and the fennel; cook until the fennel begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Substitute fennel seeds for cumin.

Roasted Red Pepper Chutney. If you have roasted red peppers on hand or can grill them with the onions as in the first variation, this is a nice route: Substitute 1 or 2 seeded and peeled Roasted Red Peppers for the onions. Eliminate the chiles if you like. Proceed with the recipe, adding the juice of 1/2 lemon or lime.

Caramelized Carrot Chutney. The cooking time will be longer, but this is unusual and impressive: Replace the onions with 1 pound carrots, chopped (about 3 cups).

Caramelized Melon Chutney. A summer delight: Use 1 medium honeydew, cassava, or cantaloupe (about 2 pounds), cleaned and cut into small cubes or slices (about 3 cups total). These will cook much faster than the onions.