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Stars of India: the best chutneys and pickles for Diwali

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Traditionally when families gather for Saturday’s Diwali celebrations, two foods will fuel the festivities: sweets and snacks. Grazing on samosa and pakora seems marginally healthier than gorging on the insanely sugary concoctions known as Indian sweets, so I tend to stick to the fried foods. But these are nothing without the chutneys that come with them. Sometimes, in fact, the chutneys are so good, I’ll eat the snack just to get another hit of the chutney.

Non-Indians are most likely to encounter these traditional chutneys in a restaurant. And Brigadiers, in the City of London, one of a number of Indian restaurants in the JKS group (others include Michelin-starred Gymkhana and Trishna), is among the best. For a chutney reinduction, I have come to meet Karam Sethi, who runs the group with his two siblings. Those who always begin an Indian meal the same way – with pappadums and chutney – would applaud the two trays that have just been set down between us. Among the chutneys are shrimp sorpotel (a Goan clove-infused relish), a tomato chutney with lemongrass and lime leaf, and the classic green chutney (with coriander, mint, ginger, garlic, green chilli, onion and spices). Mango chutney isn’t ordinarily included. I have asked for that specifically. Theirs looks like marmalade tempered with fenugreek, fennel, cumin and nigella seeds. It tastes sweet and comforting.

Sodha’s “Great-Grandma’s Mango Chutney”
Sodha’s “Great-Grandma’s Mango Chutney” © David Loftus

Is it surprising that I should have to request this most typical of chutneys? Well, Karam Sethi has a reputation for pushing boundaries. And there are many more interesting chutneys to showcase. Plus, mango chutney, particularly the jammy store-bought kind, isn’t something you routinely find in Indian kitchens. Not in my experience. There are exceptions. Karam’s brother Jyotin, the group’s CEO, loves the stuff and insists on having a jar of Geeta’s on the table at most family gatherings. But that habit is indulged rather than endorsed by certain other members of the family. As a concession to his brother and all mango-chutney fiends, Karam has developed a version for the restaurants that is actually modelled on Geeta’s. Why mess with a winner?

India Cookbook (Phaidon) by Pushpesh Pant, £35
India Cookbook (Phaidon) by Pushpesh Pant, £35
Made in India, Cooked in Britain (Fig Tree) by Meera Sodha, £20
Made in India, Cooked in Britain (Fig Tree) by Meera Sodha, £20

For Indians, chutneys are often more than mere accompaniments. They are core to the dish, whether that’s snacks, chaat (a street food served with puffed rice and sev) or kebabs. The sweet, tangy tamarind chutney that comes with chaat is precisely what makes it irresistible. Karam agonises over which chutney to serve with a dish. His green chutneys are a lesson in complementary flavours. The one that comes with pappadums is onion-heavy to open the palate up to the flavours to come; the one with the Wagyu seekh kebab anda kati roll (at Brigadiers) requires cumin and black salt to cut through the roll; and the one with the chicken and lamb kebabs includes yoghurt and brings a light herbaceous flavour.

Pappadums from Gymkhana, with lime achaar raita, green chutney and shrimp sorpotel
Pappadums from Gymkhana, with lime achaar raita, green chutney and shrimp sorpotel

Far less common in Indian restaurants are Indian pickles (achaar), which are matured in mustard oil or sesame oil if you’re from south India. The flavours are potent and not for everyone – though Indians love them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “So many Indian meals are singular and vegetable focused, not the rich, creamy curries that most Brits think of,” says food writer Meera Sodha. “When it comes to kitchari, dhal or simple dishes like aloo paratha [potato-stuffed bread], they perk up whatever they are next to.”

An Invitation to Indian Cooking (Arrow) by Madhur Jaffrey, £14.99
An Invitation to Indian Cooking (Arrow) by Madhur Jaffrey, £14.99
Zaika: Vegan Recipes from India (Seven Dials) by Romy Gill, £20
Zaika: Vegan Recipes from India (Seven Dials) by Romy Gill, £20

Her current favourite is the Gujarati pickle methi keri, which contains raw green mango and fenugreek seeds. She calls it “a thinking Indian’s pickle” because its bitter flavour is hardly mainstream. When she makes hers, she leaves the fenugreek seeds to swell in oil for a few days, which causes them to lose some bitterness and become chewy. Part of the pleasure of making pickles for her is embracing family tradition – her grandmother taught her how – and she is particularly fond of a passage from Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking that illustrates how pickles infiltrate family lore. Jaffrey’s grandmother used to bring hers on the long car rides to the summer resorts Simla and Mussoorie. “When tossing and turning at the never-ending and ever-climbing hairpin bends made our taste buds turn green,” Jaffrey writes, “my grandmother… would say, ‘Aha,’ and produce a small brown crock filled with her lime pickles. They were sour and pungent and black with age. One tiny bite would make the mouth pucker at first, but ultimately leave it completely refreshed.”

Gunpowder: Explosive Flavours From Modern India (Kyle) by Devin Seth, Harneet Baweja and Nirmal Save, £25
Gunpowder: Explosive Flavours From Modern India (Kyle) by Devin Seth, Harneet Baweja and Nirmal Save, £25

How a family makes raita, the yoghurt-based accompaniment to biryani, among other dishes, can also tell a tale. Sodha’s beetroot raita (from a recipe in her book Fresh India) is partly inspired by a pachadi (a south Indian fresh pickle) she had in Kerala and partly by the beetroot borani she loves from north African/Spanish restaurant Moro in London. Hence the clove of garlic, not something you usually find in raita. Her mother’s summer raita reflects an even more unorthodox, improvisatory approach. It features Ski peach yoghurt, Granny Smith apples, chopped grapes, cheddar cheese, grated carrot, sultanas, nuts, cucumber and sometimes even tinned pineapple. “It’s a bit mental,” Sodha admits. “But she regularly cooked parties at home for 60 plus. I witnessed people’s reactions to her raitas and they always went down well.” 

@ajesh34





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Emerging Markets

Latin American markets: shot in the arm required

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Latin American equity indices have trailed the rest of the world, including emerging markets, for the past year. Yet prices for the region’s important commodity exports remain high. Time to take advantage of undervalued stocks? Not so fast. Latin America’s markets lack the pull they once had.

The rise in competition from one of Latin America’s biggest export customers, China, has cut back emerging market investor interest in the region. Earlier this century, Latin American countries profitably exported raw materials to sate China’s voracious industrial appetite. By 2010, Brazil represented more than 16 per cent of the MSCI Emerging Market benchmark. Today it has only a quarter of that weighting, point out analysts at Tellimer, as more Chinese constituents join MSCI indices.

Chart showing that Latin American stocks are trailing the world. MSCI indices in $ terms (rebased), comparative of Latin America, the rest of the world and emerging markets.

Even so, with commodity prices doing so well, one might expect more demand for Latin American stocks. Copper, up by three-quarters in price over one year, made up 46 per cent of Chile’s export value pre-pandemic. In Brazil, soyabeans, iron ore and crude oil together accounted for almost the same proportion of exports.

The problem is deciding where prices go from here. There is no clear evidence that a new commodity supercycle has begun and China is attempting to temper further commodity price surges. No surprise that MSCI Latin America trails the broader emerging market index by 11 percentage points over one year.

Chart showing that Covid-19 deaths continue to rise in Latin America. Daily confirmed deaths, (%, by region, 7-day rolling average), Europe, Latin Americaand Caribbean, North America, Middle East, Asia and Africa, Q1 2020 to Q2 2021

Valuation presents an additional hurdle. Latin America’s price to book is more than 2 times — slightly higher than its five-year average. Brazil is no cheaper, and interest rates there are rising. Pandemic-induced goods shortages have led to prices increasing, up 6 per cent overall in the year to March. Brazil could also be the source of further regional Covid-19 cases given it shares porous borders with ten countries. Its vaccination effort has covered only about 3 per cent of its population, according to Financial Times data. The government of President Jair Bolsonaro has rejected calls for a lockdown.

Commodity prices should soon peak. This possibility, combined with the surge of Covid-19 cases, mean that it is too early to fill portfolios with Latin American stocks.

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Ukraine accuses Russia of blocking talks to ease military tensions

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Kyiv has accused Moscow of blocking attempts to begin talks aimed at calming military tensions sparked by the deployment of tens of thousands of Russian troops close to the Ukrainian border.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has not received a response to his request for a telephone call with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, his spokesperson said, amid concerns from the US and other European powers that an escalation in military deployments could result in full-blown conflict.

More than 14,000 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since 2014 in fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukraine’s army for control of Donbas, a region in the east of the country bordering Russia. The fighting first erupted after Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

“The request has been forwarded from the office of the president of Ukraine to the office of Vladimir Putin to have a conversation, a telephone talk. And we have not received an answer yet,” Zelensky’s spokesperson Iuliia Mendel said on Monday.

“The office of the president of Ukraine hopes that it doesn’t mean that Vladimir Putin refuses to have a dialogue with Ukraine,” she said, adding that the request was made on March 26.

Separately, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Russia had refused to engage “in consultations aimed at reducing security tensions” and boycotted an OSCE meeting on Saturday where the troop build-up was scheduled to be discussed.

Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky (above) made a request for a telephone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on March 26 © Gints Ivuskans/AFP/Getty Images

Putin’s spokesperson responded by saying that he was not aware of any recent requests for talks from Zelensky.

“In recent days, I have not seen any requests. I am not aware that there have been any requests in recent days,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“In terms of defusing tensions and preventing a potential war, Vladimir Putin always has something to say,” he added, when asked whether Putin had anything to say to his Ukrainian counterpart. “We hope that political wisdom will prevail in Kyiv, and the matter will not take a serious turn.”

Mendel said Russia had stationed more than 40,000 troops on the eastern border area and sent another 9,000 to Crimea, in addition to the 33,000 troops already there.

That build-up, supplemented by tanks and other armed vehicles, has led to accusations that Moscow plans some form of military intervention. The Kremlin said it is permitted to station its soldiers wherever it likes, and that they are no threat to any other country.

Both Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in Donbas accused the other side of sporadic violations of a ceasefire agreement over the weekend.

Kyiv says 28 of its troops have been killed so far this year, more than half the number who died over the whole of 2020.

Russian officials have dramatically increased their belligerent rhetoric towards Ukraine in recent weeks. Putin has warned that the situation could provoke a repeat of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, while his deputy chief of staff said any escalation by Kyiv would be “the beginning of the end” for the country and provoke from Russia “not a shot in the leg, but in the face”.

Ukraine has responded by calling on Nato to speed up its membership application, while US president Joe Biden has pledged his support to the country.

In addition to the US and European powers, concerns over the military build-up have drawn in regional power Turkey, which lies across the Black Sea from Crimea. The Nato member has deepened ties with Russia in recent years but opposes Russia’s annexation of the peninsula and in 2019 sold military drones to Kyiv.

Zelensky on Saturday held talks with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, who called for dialogue and for a peaceful resolution
in line with Ukraine’s “territorial integrity”. Those talks came a day after a telephone call between Erdogan and Putin, in which the Russian leader accused Ukraine of “dangerous provocative actions”.

Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley in Ankara



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Technology will save emerging markets from sluggish growth

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The writer, Morgan Stanley Investment Management’s chief global strategist, is author of ‘The Ten Rules of Successful Nations’

Emerging economies struggled to grow through the 2010s and pessimism shrouds them now. People wonder how they will pay debts rung up during the pandemic and how they can grow rapidly as they did in the past — by exporting their way to prosperity — in an era of deglobalisation.

The freshest of many answers to this riddle is the fast-spreading digital revolution. Emerging nations are adopting cutting-edge technology at a lower and lower cost, which is allowing them to fuel domestic demand and overcome traditional obstacles to growth. Over the past decade, the number of smartphone owners has skyrocketed from 150m to 4bn worldwide. More than half the world’s population now carry the power of a supercomputer in their pockets.

The world’s largest emerging market has already demonstrated the transformative effects of digital technology. As China’s old rustbelt industries slowed sharply over the past decade, and ran up debts that threatened to explode in crisis only a few years ago, the booming tech sector saved the economy.

Now, often by adopting rather than innovating, China’s emerging market peers are getting a push from the same digital engines. Since 2014, more than 10,000 tech firms have been launched in emerging markets — nearly half of them outside China. From Bangladesh to Egypt, it is easy to find entrepreneurs who worked for Google, Facebook or other US giants before coming home to start their own companies.

As well as the so-called Amazon of China, there are Amazons of Russia, Poland, Latin America and south-east Asia. Local firms dominate the market for search in Russia, ride-hailing in Indonesia and digital payments in Kenya. 

By one key metric, the digital revolution is already as advanced in emerging economies as developed ones. Among the top 30 nations by revenue from digital services as a share of gross domestic product, 16 are in the emerging world. Indonesia, for example, is further advanced by this measure than France or Canada. And since 2017, digital revenue has been growing in emerging countries at an average annual pace of 26 per cent, compared with 11 per cent in the developed ones.

How can it be that poorer nations are adopting common digital technologies faster than the rich? One explanation is habit and its absence. In societies saturated with bricks-and-mortar stores and services, customers are often comfortable with and slow to abandon the providers they have. In countries where people have difficulty even finding a bank or a doctor, they will jump at the first digital option that comes along. 

Outsiders have a hard time grasping the impact digital services can have on underserved populations. Nations lacking in schools, hospitals and banks can quickly if not completely redress these gaps by establishing online services. Though only 5 per cent of Kenyans carry credit cards, more than 70 per cent have access to digital banking. 

The “digital divide” is narrowing in many places. Most of the big countries where internet bandwidth and mobile broadband subscriptions are growing fastest are in the emerging world. Last decade, the number of internet users doubled in the G20 nations, but the biggest gains came in emerging nations such as Brazil and India.

The digital impact on productivity, the key to sustained economic growth, is visible on the ground. Many governments are moving services online to make them more transparent and less vulnerable to corruption, perhaps the most feared obstacle to doing business in the emerging world.

Since 2010, the cost of starting a business has held steady in developed countries while falling sharply in emerging countries, from 66 per cent to just 27 per cent of the average annual income. Entrepreneurs can now launch businesses affordably, organising much of what they need on a smartphone. Lagos and Nairobi are rising as local fintech hubs, where leading executives vow to raise Africa’s “digital GDP” by widening access to internet financing.

It’s early days, too. As economist Carlota Perez has shown, tech revolutions last a long time. Innovations like the car and the steam engine were still transforming economies half a century later. Now, the fading era of globalisation will limit the number of emerging economies that can prosper on exports alone, but the era of rapid digitisation has only just begun. This offers many developing economies a revolutionary new path to catching up with the living standards of the developed world. 



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