Thanksgiving Recipe: Mark's Cranberry Chutney

This is a repost of a recipe from last year. I just made this year’s batch, and I gotta say… this stuff is absolutely amazing. It’s so good that I can barely believe that I invented this, even though I know I did, because I was there.

Since I started doing my family’s thanksgiving dinner, I always made a simple cranberry relish – it’s the recipe that’s on the side of every bag of fresh cranberries – the cranberries, sugar, and oranges, into a food processor. The problem is, that really needs to sit for a couple of days, to let the flavors blend together, and to give the cranberry pectin a chance to thicken it. And last year, I completely forgot to do it in advance – on thanksgiving morning, I took the turkey out of the fridge, and saw my bag of cranberries.

So there was no time to let it sit. I figured I needed to do something else. What? Well, I love chutneys, and a good chutney sounded nice. I went hunting online for cranberry chutney. There were lots of recipes, but none of them appealed to me. So I said to hell with it, and ad-libbed.

The results were just delightful, and it’s become the new cranberry tradition in the Chu-Carroll household. It’s got fantastic balance: sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter all at the same time, in the right proportions to compliment the turkey.


  • 12 oz cranberries.
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar.
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar.
  • 1/2 large onion, finely minced.
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced.
  • 1/2 granny smith apple, peeled and chopped.
  • 1 dried serrano chili, finely minced.
  • 1 cup water.
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seed.
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seed.
  • 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds.
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried lemon peel.


  1. Toast the spices in a dry pan until they become fragrant. Then transfer them to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, and grind them to a fine powder.
  2. Put a tablespoon of oil into a hot pan on medium heat.
  3. Add the onions and garlic to the oil, along with a generous pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium low, and cook them until the onion turns translucent.
  4. Add the apples and the ground spices and stir until the apples start to soften.
  5. Mix the water, vinegar, and sugar, and add the mixture to the pan. Stir vigorously, to get the sugar to dissolve. Turn the heat back up to medium, and keep stirring until it comes to a boil.
  6. When it boils, add the cranberries. Cook until the cranberries have all popped, and the liquid has reduced. (It will thicken more when you chill it, but don’t leave too much liquid in the pan.)
  7. Remove from the heat, and chill for a couple of hours. The natural pectins from the cranberries will help thicken it up.

My son ended up eating four helpings of this. Even my wife, who usually doesn’t eat cranberries, actually ate a full helping!

A few notes about it:

  • Looking at it, it might seem like 1 1/2 cups is too much sugar. It really isn’t – between the vinegar and the cranberries themselves, there’s a lot of sour and bitter in this, and you need to counterbalance it. It really doesn’t come out too sweet.
  • The spices in this are a haphazard blend. They’re things that I thought would blend nicely with the cranberry flavor, and which I happened to have in my spice cabinet. You could definitely vary them quite a bit – add a bit of turmeric, yellow mustard instead of the brown, some ginger. The one that I think is most important to the final flavor was probably the fenugreek. You can definitely taste all of them – but the fenugreek has a special flavor and fragrance which really made it work with the turkey.
  • For the cardamom, I used cardamom seeds. I absolutely love cardamom – it’s by far one of my favorite spices. But working with whole cardamom pods is a pain. There’s a lot of flavor in the husk of the pod – but it’s so tough and fibrous that it’s very hard to break up. Even going through my turkish coffee grinder, you still get big fibrous hunks which are unpleasant. So I’ve taken to using just the seeds for things like this; I use the whole pod when I’m cooking it in something that will get strained later, like an ice-cream, or the milk that I use for making bread pudding.
  • Cooking cranberries in fun. They really do pop. When you put them into a hot pan, the insides start to expand until the skins crack open.
  • The only tricky part of this is getting the liquid balance right. Mine came out a bit too runny. But you don’t want it to come out too hard either. Cranberries have a lot of natural pectin in them, so when you chill it, it will thicken up as the pectin starts to set. If you cook it until it’s the texture you want it, it’ll end up too hard when you chill it. But don’t count on it thickening too much – there’s not enough pectin for it to set like a gel from a runny liquid.

Anyway – I’m really delighted with and proud of this recipe. I’m honestly amazed at how well it turned out. Give it a try, and let me know if you like it as much as I do!

8 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Recipe: Mark's Cranberry Chutney

  1. M.

    You forgot to mention the delightful alliteration that is “Chu-Carroll Cranberry Chutney”.

    I’m looking forward to trying it out, and kicking myself for never thinking of combining fenugreek with cranberries. So obvious in retrospect…

  2. Candid Engineer

    Mark, this looks awesome. For me the only challenge would be the fenugreek seeds, which I’ve never heard of before, let alone know how to find. I always hate cranberry sauce coming out of a can (my parents don’t really cook- so that’s all I had ever tried). But in grad school, I started making my own- what a different world.

    1. MarkCC Post author

      You should be able to find fenugreek seeds in the grocery store spice section; they’re not that unusual. They’re a very common ingredient in curries, among other things. Once you open the jar and take a sniff, you’re certain to recognize the smell.

  3. Rosemary

    I tried this out last year and really loved it! It’s also great served with cheese.
    In fact, I still have some in the freezer now, so I will be serving it again at our Christmas dinner this year (since in the UK we don’t have Thanksgiving)!

    Thanks Mark!

  4. chezjake

    This is indeed an excellent recipe. It was a big hit at both Thanksgiving dinner (for 20) and an “eat up the leftovers” party last night. Thanks, Mark!


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