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Condiments


Fat Guy
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I really enjoy Indian condiments. As I was mentioning on the flatbreads thread, I often find myself in Indian restaurants here (New York) just eating naan and spooning condiments onto it -- and skipping most of the food that is supposed to be the meal. When I wander into an Indian grocery, I'll sometimes pick up some random condiments even if I can't understand the labels on the jars (and sometimes this is the case even if the label is in English). They're invariably good.

So, two issues come to mind:

1) I think it's interesting that condiments -- added by the person eating the food -- are such an integral part of Indian cuisine. (Or am I mistaken there?) In the French high cuisine tradition, by contrast, you'd be considered a very bad man just for adding salt to your food -- no less condiments. The Western model seems to be: The chef made it perfect for you, now eat it and shut up. The Indian model seems to be: Here's the food, and here are a bunch of flavors you can weave into it; now enhance it however you like.

2) I'm sure I've not experienced Indian condiments at their best, especially since I've been exposed hardly at all to fresh condiments (most everything I try is preserved). What are some of the signature regional condiments of India, how are they used, and are there any I can whip up easily at home?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Condiments are as important to the Bengalis as the main food.  meals are not three courses, but tend to be one plate with a number of dishes served on it which can be eaten in any order ( my father always takes his dhal with a spoonful of jaggery - ugh)

My favourites are the fiery pickles, particularly the Brinjhal pickles and lime pickles.  It is hard to get these in NY.  Here in London most of the supermarkets have their own label versions to greater or lesser extent.

Two UK companies make excellent preprepared pickles.  Sharwoods which has been going for a long time and Pataks which is newer, but to my mind more authentic.  Both of these companies now export around the world ( even to India ) and both are available at Myers of Keswick and Tea & Sympathy.

The Brinjhal pickle is also good with western food like a ploughmans lunch or just a plain slab of cheese.

For any Londoners reading this thread, there is an adorable woman at Borough Market on a Saturday who sells her own chutneys and pickles.  Her Malabar Tomato chutney is a wonder and her lime pickle is perhaps the best I have ever had

S

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Simon thanks for the names of the companies.  I had not heard of the first one.  Pataks is being sold all over the US now.  They are good.  In the US, we are able to find Ahmeds pickles from Pakistan that are more home style ( to northern India ) and also Priya Pickles that are more authentic to southern style pickles.  Pataks is a very consistent and attractive and clean alternative.  

Steven where I grew up, mostly in Delhi, it was considered rude to ask for pickles.  They came out for parties and on rare afternoon and evening, my mother would let Panditji bring them out at our family meals.  Like the French, in the larger family and friend circuit in Delhi, these were reserved for parties... large ones.  But for intimate dinners, asking and feasting on pickles meant that the cook had not made you an inspired meal.  Or that the salting was not to your taste.  

But then, there were those family dinners, made after a week of over indulgence in party foods, when simple khichree was prepared and for that meal, pickles of many different kinds were made.

Mind you, I am speaking of my household, where pickles to this day, are taken very seriously.  Like in most communities, it is left to an aunt with the most capable hands to make pickles for the larger family and friend unit.  That one person makes in bulk and shares with all.  It was my mother and Panditji our chef who were this point people for our extended family and friend circle.  While us kids would get away eating pickles at any time and with any meals, the elders would follow the French decorum for the most part.  

There was a revolving set of jars in which at any given time 3-5 different kinds of pickles were being bathed in the sun.  These were jars that had been filled with fresh seasonal pickles and were being cooked in the sun before being put away in dark places so they would preserve for at least a year.

Pickling to Indians is as scientific a culinary tradition as one gets.  It is one of the few times that you will see spices being measured.  Ingredients being weighed and every detail being meticulously planned.  Proportions are written in journals and have been passed down generationally through grandmothers and it is with their blessing that they are made.  In fact, even though my grandmother never cooked, she would sit in her chair and instruct my mother and Panditji on what they already knew and had done for several years.  But they indulged in her since it was felt her blessings would keep the preserved safe from mould.

We have in India sweet, sour, hot, salty and sweet & sour pickles. In my cookbook (manuscript due to publisher in October), I will share many recipes.  And certainly some of the lore.

I remember one year, as an 8 year old I lived with my family in Nagpur, a city in Maharashtra, in western India.  My mother was making eggplant pickle and my siblings and I made it our goal to fetch her tamarind from our own tree.  So, we climbed the tree that was as old as time and as tall as we had seen in that area.  In the summer sun, with blazing heat and against my mother wishes, we spent our days hanging and playing on the sturdy branches of this tree.  Finding little ripe fruit but eating the unripe fruit since it was very sour and tasty.  We each got sunstroke, almost died and were revived by good doctors and a caring mother who drenched us in ice.

But what came a few weeks later, were little saplings of tamarind all over our yard.  From the seeds we had been spitting as we ate the unripened fruit.  All across the green and in beds were small little tamarind trees.  It took months to get them weeded.  But, the pickle was made with store bought tamarind.  It was the tastiest eggplant pickle I have ever eaten.  And for some reason, it was destined to be a one-time treat, as in our move back to Delhi, my mother who has never lost anything, was unable to find the diary she had started for these pickles she was learning from friends.  They could not be mixed with the family recipes, so she had started a new diary.  She is now trying to find the neighbor who had taught her this variation, and I hope we can find the recipe before my first book gets written.

Coming back to Stevens eating of naan with the condiments, Steven, you can do whatever you want to with Indian food.  We are very loose about rules.  And then, some times we have many rules.  I eat the condiments with Papadum.  The crispy rice and lentil wafers.  So, whatever meets you fancy, enjoy it.

Indian restaurants in India often do not serve you papadum as they are served in NYC.  It is more of a recent phenomenon.  Maybe Anil can tell us about his experiences with restaurants in Bengal.  In Bombay and Delhi, two places I have lived and spent time studying in detail, this is not the case.   Breads are eaten with food and yes, if you have condiments on your plate, you can certainly enjoy t hem with the bread as well.  IN my own kitchen in NYC, I always have jars of pickles that are being cured before they get put away in a dark corner, other jars that have not been put away cause I want to have another serving ... I often buy Pita bread and eat pickles and pita as a meal.  

This summer, I pickled over 30 pounds of habanero peppers alone.  The hot pepper vendor in the Union Square farmers market asked me what made me buy so much hot pepper, and I said I pickle them.  Week after week, I would come by and buy all their habaneros.  These get stuffed with a mélange of spices and then get cured in oil.  I made Mathris ( Indian style crackers made with semolina ) and stacked 2 dozens of these in plastic wrap and these were given as gifts for the holidays alongside jars of home made pickles.

I found very nice "ugly tomatoes" in New Haven and so, I bought a huge amount, and today, I will make Andhra Style Tomato Chutney.  I bought two dozen canning jars.  And I am hoping I can fill them all.

Pickling is a great tradition.  And it is interesting how many pickling spices are common across cultures and continents.  What changes though is how one cures them.  In oil, water, oil, with salt alone or in a spice induced oil.

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it is interesting how many pickling spices are common across cultures and continents . . .

Might that be because most of them come from India or thereabouts? I don't have a complete grasp of the history of the spice trade, but my understanding is that very few modern spices existed in the West until traders brought them over from the East.

Secret recipes is an interesting subject. We've discussed it elsewhere, but it merits a thread on this board as it pertains to India.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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One condiment which you increasingly find at New York area Indian restaurants is mint-cilantro chutney (sometimes also with Chili oil).  The quality of mint-cilantro chutney which I've had has varied widely, but it's given me just a hint of how limited the selection is at most area Indian restaurants, where that red onion stuff, and a very basic Tamarind chutney are frequently the only two condiments.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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And about the cilantro-mint chutney

This is a common condiment made across India.  Indian restaurants do a very poor job at best of making it correct in texture.  They do make it taste right though.  

I have had trouble with the chutneys being very watery and very runny.  The color varies from a very bright green to almost too dark an emerald green.  I dip the chutney in yogurt and detect food coloring 9.5 out of 10 times.  And the same is true for the tamarind date chutney.  

For some reason, the owners and chefs feel the need to use coloring to finish the chutney.  I know that many NYC chefs, across restaurants, use stems of scallion as a base for the mint cilantro chutney as it is cheaper than mint or cilantro and also available  year round.

In NYC it is a common condiment.

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Suvir, Clarkson Potter is part of the Crown group which is in turn one of Random House's ten big divisions. A very presitgious imprint; congratulations! My next book is with Crown as well, the House of Collectibles division. So we are colleagues! This will be my first book with Crown, though I wrote three books for Prima, which was recently acquired by Random House and I think is also going into the Crown group. This is pure coincidence that all my books are now carried by Random House and not necessarily their original publishers.

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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Patak's Lime Chutney with naan or roti and eggs. I had this at least once a week for about a year. :biggrin:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Suvir/Ellen

You are with one of if not the best imprints in publishing and I do not say that lightly

If I am correct, your editor will be Pam K ( I will protect the privacy of the individual )  who is the best.  I have produced some books for her from the UK and met with her only three weeks ago.

You are in excellent hands

S

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Simon,

My editor is the person you mention.  And she is the best.  In fact in a week, I will be cooking my first meal for her.

I am very excited to be working with her.  I love her passion and brutal honesty and her amazing business savvy.  She thinks like a consumer and I love that.

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I am and you may.  

While I would not claim to know her hugely well, she is always kind enough to look at my projects and to listen to where I have been to eat and am planning to eat.  She always has superb suggestions to add to my list of NY places to visit

Back to food.

What does one propose to cook for such a high powered Park Ave Publisher?

I am thinking Moghul with plentiful pressed gold.

S

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She is coming to eat what I am testing.. so ususally my co-writer and I cook 6-8 dishes when we meet.. so she will get those... and I will make something for her the night before.  We will have close to 15 dishes...and a dozen pickles and chutneys and maybe two variations of pooris.

The meal may be all vegetarian I think.. I have not decided yet.. Since we have still not started testing the meat chapters.  But for her it is more about seeing us cook and partake in the making of this book she will publish.  I am sure she will be rather kind and humble and enjoy my more humble greenwich village lifestyle.

The desserts may or may not have gold leaf.  I am not sure what I will make.. Kulfi for sure... maybe a Sheer Khurma as one would eat at the end of Ramadan.  That perhaps the French may not like but billions across India and also the middle east crave for all year long.  It is divine.  Every hour of cooking is well worth it at the end.  And I may make one of my pound cakes.. American home style cakes that have caught the attention of some foodies in NYC.  I will have 3-5 desserts.

And yes some drinks.  Lassis, maybe a palate cleanser to be had between courses and as a digestif.  I make it with a mix of tropical fruits with black salt, toasted cumin and red chili added to the juices.  Also a fruit punch with a secret ingredient that makes t he classic western fruit punch that much better.  It will be revealed in the cook book.  It is not Indian but goes perfectly with Indian food.

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All of this sound wonderful and makes me long for the days when I used to get invited to these things.  Now unfortnately, I am the one telling the editors to make sure they bring me back a doggy bag while I stay at my desk crying over budgets and, of course spending entire friday afternoons posting on egullet

Do report back on her reaction.  I to am sure she will be grace and charm itself as she has always been to me

S

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Chutneys,Pickles and other condiments.

Chutneys tend to have very minimal amount of spices, Pickles are more elaborate and

then there are fresh herbs,ground.mixed with few basic oils or youghurts.

Sometimes one, or all three are offered with meals.

Just as with spices, Pickles are made at home, with things in season. A month or so before

the ripe mangoes hit the market, green unripe mangoes are bought by the basket, cut and

mixed with oils and spices and put in ceramic jars. The jars are put out in the backyard, in the sun, or in the balcony in the sun. Days or weeks later, lo and behold you have the family Achaar ready for tasting.

Years old achaar gets better with age. Among the few vegetarian achaars I crave for are

bamboo (found in the alleys of Haridwar) and Lotus Root (in Bengal and Bihar).

Southern style pickles have more tang and fiery peppers and fewer other spices. Fish based pickles are mainstay in Western India along the coast.

Oils: The use of oils in making of the pickles add an entirely new dimension to the taste

and flavour of essentially the same (i.e mango) pickle.

Marinated vegetables: In Maharastra, expect to see onions,carrots and other vegs. marinated in vinegar

to show up in some households and restaurants.

anil

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And in Punjab.. they even add jaggery to vegetable pickles with oil and vinegar.  Example the khatta meetha gobhi shalgam kaa achaar ( the sweet and sour cauliflower and radish pickle ).

And then from UP, you have the mango pickle with no oil.. cured with salt and spices alone.  I have a 40 plus year bottle in my NYC kitchen.  It is heaven in each bite.  It comes out only for very few guests.  Those t hat have reached the level of enjoyment that these old pickles can give.  

I also love lasore kaa achaar from rajasthan.  Not sure what those berries are called in English... does anyone know?

In my refrigerator I also have Chicken Pickle, Pork Pickle and Shrimp Pickle.  These run out very quickly.

And Anil.. you always seem to be very detailed in your posts.  What a treat for all of us.  Thanks.

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  • 5 months later...

Lemon Pickle:

It is most common and most simple. It is made in the summer so that the intense summer sun can mature the fruit. The pickle is set out daily in the sun for the first three weeks or so. The sun helps in fermentation and in its antiseptic properties. The jars are brought in at night and left out again in the sun the following morning.

People often choose very thin skinned lemons or limes. They also make sure there are no blemishes on the fruit. The pickle can be served after 4 weeks or so but it is best after three or four months. It even gets better after a year or more. I was quoted in an article by Fruit Detective David Karp in which he mentioned my grandmothers 60 year old citric pickle. It becomes medicinal by then. Or so we choose to believe. The pickle is all crystallized and is used by me to cure stomach ailments that friends and I may have.

My maternal grandmother in San Francisco uses the lemons bursting from her lemon trees to pickle in the summer. She also freezes their juice as ice cubes to be used later in the year.

NIMBU KAA ACHAAR (SOUR LEMON PICKLE)

DOZEN LEMONS

2 TSP. BLACK PEPPERCORNS

1 TSP. CUMIN SEEDS

5 CARDAMOM PODS

4 CLOVES

1/2 INCH CINNAMON STICK

1/8 TSP MACE POWDER

1/8 TSP NUTMEG, FRESHLY GROUND

3 TSP. RED PEPPER POWDER

2 TSP. CAROM SEEDS (AJOWAIN)

1 TSP. CRUSHED RED PEPPER FLAKES

1 TSP. ASAFETIDA (HEENG)

2 TSP. GINGER POWDER

9 TBSP. SALT

CLEAN AND WASH THE LIMES OR LEMONS. SET THEM IN THE SUN FOR A FEW HOURS OR DRY THEM IN A WARM OVEN FOR A FEW MINUTES.

CUT EACH OF THEM IN HALF AND THEN EACH OF THOSE HALVES INTO 6-8 WEDGES. SAVE THE JUICE IN A CONTAINER AND SET ASIDE.

DRY THESE WEDGES IN THE SUN FOR A DAY.

GRIND THE BLACK PEPPERCORNS, CUMIN SEEDS, CARDAMOM, CLOVES AND CINNAMON INTO A POWDER.

COMBINE THE RED PEPPER POWDER, FLAKES, MACE, NUTMEG, ASAFETIDA, GINGER POWDER, CAROM SEEDS AND SALT. ADD THE SPICE MIX TO THIS.

ADD ANY OF THE JUICE THAT WAS SET ASIDE. MIX ALL OF THIS WELL AND IN A BOWL. PRESS THE WEDGES AS YOU MIX THE SPICES AND THE FRUIT.

PACK THIS MIX INTO A STERILIZED, 1-QUART JAR AND SEAL TIGHTLY.

SET THE JAR IN THE SUN EVERY DAY FOR THE NEXT 4 WEEKS. SHAKE THE JAR 3-4 TIMES EACH DAY.

AFTER THE 4TH WEEK, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PUT THE JAR IN THE SUN, BUT SHAKE THE JAR A FEW TIMES EACH DAY FOR ANOTHER WEEK. KEEP IT IN A DRY PLACE.

LET THE PICKLE MATURE AND FERMENT FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER MONTH OR TWO.

ONCE YOU OPEN THE PICKLE, REFRIGERATE IT AND ALSO MAKE SURE TO ALWAYS USE CLEAN AND DRY FLATWARE.

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