7/26/13

Indian Pickle

This is an Indian pickle. It involves taking a fruit (mango, lime, lemon; in this case, lemon and green almonds), preserving it in salt, and then adding spices, oil, and dried red chiles. At a typical South Indian meal, you'll see a combination of raw vegetables (cucumber, tomato, onion, etc), stewed or steamed vegetables (with or without spices), rice, and Indian pickle.

Because you're often eating with your hand, picking up a salt shaker to season your food isn't an option. Instead, you take a bit of the spicy, salty, sour pickle, and eat it along with your food. It allows the adults to adjust the spiciness of the food to their liking, and when made without the chiles, for the youngsters to bump up the salt, as desired.

Unlike a European or American pickle, where you're meant to eat it in large pieces, the Indian pickle is used strictly as a condiment. The kind that my mother would make would often be with these tiny green mangoes that she'd get during mango season. They're hard, unripe, and very sour. Since we couldn't find those same green mangoes here, we substituted green almonds, which have the exact same flavour as the mangoes, to excellent results.

Each home will have its own mix of spices, chiles, and salt that they use for their pickles. At the end of the cooking of the spices and chiles, you grind the chile and spices together with heated oil, and mix it into the preserved fruit. The oil helps preserve the pickle (and makes for a delicious addition to plain rice, when eaten as a snack).

I remember making huge batches of pickles with my mother during the summer. We'd sit down, and prepare piles of mangoes, salt them, and make the spice blend after the mangoes had leaked out all their juices with the salt to make a salty, sour brine. My mother would switch up the spices each time, constantly tweaking the recipe in the search for perfection. It's been years since she made pickles, because there hasn't been enough green mango to make it with in her home in Arizona.

This is my nod to my mother. I've tweaked the recipe from her version, to suit what I had access to. Instead of using the dried Indian chiles, I used a bunch of dried Guajillo and Pasilla chiles. Lemon is easy enough to find, but they don't have the same flavour as the tiny little mangoes. The green almonds, when I tasted them raw, took me back to those long summer afternoons in India with the first bite. After finely chopping the pickled lemons and almonds, I tossed them in the spices, oil, and chiles. The taste is quite divine.
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