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Pickles / Preserves

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In America, we think of pickles as a kind of a relish, or side dish – a cured vegetable that adds a sour or tart note to the meal. We pickle a variety of different vegetables but, for whatever the differences, pickles all have a recognizably “pickled” taste. Indian pickles use many of the same ingredients – salt, vinegar, coriander, mustard seeds, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves and ginger – but they present some of the most diverse and exotic tastes and textures imaginable. They are fiery hot, sour, pungent, fragrant, sweet- and- sour, and tart. They are crisp, silky and chewy. Flavors may be fresh, the taste of each spice distinct, or married and intensified by months or even years of aging as the textures of the ingredients melt and soften. While Indians eat some pickles (such as the Mixed Vegetable Pickle, below) in relatively large quantities, the pickles are often too intensely flavored to be eaten that way; they’re used in tiny amounts as a spice or condiment to enliven a dish. Indians also use pickles in a way that Americans never do, that is, medicinally, to cure an ailment.

Indians love to taste food; they live to taste food. Indians want many layers and many contrasting tastes. No one food can satisfy that hunger except a variety of pickles. I have jars and jars of multi-colored pickles sitting on the kitchen table. One is a tiny onion pickle, picked young and fresh and pickled in rice vinegar, that is common to almost all north Indian homes. Several are pickled chilies: one is made of whole green chilies and is dangerously hot while another, made from habaneros stuffed with spices, is more savory than hot, and a third is made from chopped green chilies soured with lemon. There is a crunchy sweet- and- hot cauliflower, turnip and carrot pickle, a ginger-lime pickle and a gooseberry pickle. These pickles are made from recipes that have been handed down by the women of my family for two to three hundred years. Some of these jars have been maturing for just a few days, others for much longer than that.

A jar of lemon pickles made by his family chef at home in India, a jar that has been maturing for 60 years. In India, food is understood to be intimately related to health and medicine. The Ayurveda, the ancient Hindu text that defines the relationship of food, spices, exercise and meditation for the health of the human body, gives recipes for various medicinal foods and elixirs, of which pickles play an important role. I use lemon pickle as it is traditionally used in my native country: to cure queasiness and tummy aches.

In my New York household I use pickles the way that wealthier households do in India, as a condiment guaranteed to give plain foods taste. In fact, in India it’s considered rude to ask for pickles if they are not on the table; it suggests that the food isn’t savory enough. Indian homes make several signature pickles, recipes that have been passed down through generations of women. Pickles made the season before are served daily. Aged, well-loved pickles are brought out when someone is sick or when the household is hosting a special meal.

With the exception of some pickles that are made with winter produce such as cauliflower, radishes, turnips and carrots, pickles are made in Indian homes in the heat of the summer. Fruits and vegetables are bought from local vendors who sell door to door. Women spend several weeks preparing pickles. The fruits are laid out on terraces on sheets of muslin for several days in the summer sun to dry, or “ripen” and concentrate their flavors. The produce is brought inside every night to protect against dew and laid out again in the morning. The pickles are put up in very large ceramic jars, each about 20 inches tall and 8 inches wide. Once jarred, the pickles are ripened again for several more days in the sun.

If you ask an Indian where the best pickles are made, they will name three centers: the Marwari and Baniya trading communities in northern India, the state of Gujerat in western India, and the state of Andhra Bradesh, in southern India. The Marwari and Baniya communities are completely vegetarian and they subsist on pickles and bread. The people of these communities make pickles everyday and their meals include several different types. Pickles that are spiced with fenugreek and fennel and pickled in mustard oil, are likely to be from northern India, as are pickled cauliflower, carrots, turnips and radishes, the so called “winter vegetables” that are grown on the northern plains.

Pickles represent a ritual world of food and community in India. Pickling is an ancient art and a part of Hindu spiritual practice: according to the laws of Hindu religion, pickling, or “cooking” foods with sun and air is one of the three acceptable ways to make raw foods palatable. The rituals of pickle making define a certain period of the summer in India when entire households are given over to the task of their making. Traditionally, in small towns, the women join together, spending days outside in the shade of tamarind trees cutting, preparing, and drying the fruits and vegetables. The kids play above in the dense greenery of the trees, eating the green fruit of the tamarind and tossing the seeds onto the ground below. (Stomach aches and tiny tamarind seedlings are evidence of their gluttony.) Play, food, music and storytelling combine to give the season a celebratory mood. Even in urban centers in India today, the time of pickling still invites ritual community and celebration. Women call each other on the phone to organize the making of the pickles or to ask for the gift of a jar of a favorite kind. Life slows a bit, personal connections are made, and thousands of years of ritual is repeated.

--Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness

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What a great story Suvir,Thank you for posting it.

Besides the lemons,are their other "fruits"pickles that are common in India?

I line cook I used to work with from San Salvador made the most amazing pickled mango's with a hot,sweet and sour ginger syrup.

Would you consider Harrisa pickling?

Turnip Greens are Better than Nothing. Ask the people who have tried both.

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Makes 1 1/2 quarts

This pickle is made in the summer so that the strong summer heat can intensify or ripen the flavor of the lemon. The pickle is set out daily in the sun for the first 3 weeks and brought in every night. Made without oil, this pickle is traditionally used as medicine, to cure stomach ailments.

12 lemons, rinsed and well dried, hard stem ends removed

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

5 cardamom pods

4 cloves

1/2-inch cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground mace

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons carom seeds

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon asafetida powder

2 teaspoons ground ginger

9 tablespoons salt

1. Cut lemons in half lengthwise and then cut each half lengthwise into 6 to 8 wedges. Save any juices you get from cutting lemons; set aside. Lay wedges out on 2 paper towel lined trays and let dry all day in a sunny spot.

2. Grind peppercorns with cumin, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon in spice grinder to a powder. Transfer to a large bowl and add cayenne, mace, nutmeg, carom seeds, red pepper flakes, asafetida, ginger, and salt. Add reserved lemon juice and mix well. Now add lemon wedges and mix, pressing spice mixture onto flesh of lemons.

3. Pack lemons into one sterilized 1-quart jar and one sterilized pint jar. Cap jars and set in a sunny spot for 5 weeks, turning jars up and down several times, 3 to 4 times a day. Let pickle age at least another month before eating. Refrigerate after opening.

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I make a very simple harissa paste

2 oz dried jopenes

2 garlic cloves

4 teaspoons coriander seed


Olive oil

I just soak the chilies till tender,pat them dry and process them.

I use this paste to make a moroccan harissa sauce

it has chicken stock,harrisa paste,lemon juice,olive oil,cumin and cilantro.

I was planning on going to the FFS at the javits center a few weeks ago with a # of freinds, so I had prepared harissa, preserved lemons,olive tapinade,lavander and sage blossom honey and tarragon vinegar as gifts for everyone,but I could not go for some personal reason,but a friend of mine picked up the gifts and brought them to the city,One of the people who is a self proclamed chili queen sade she loved to watch the beads of sweat on her husbands head as they eat my harrisa

Turnip Greens are Better than Nothing. Ask the people who have tried both.

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Makes 2 pints

This is a very hot pickle, eaten in tiny quantities, guaranteed to jazz up anything that needs a bit of flavor. Because the pickle is so hot, tiny slices allow you to take just a bit at a time onto your plate. The pickle may be eaten within 4 to 5 days but is best after about 1 week.

3 tablespoons brown mustard seeds

1 teaspoon asafetida

1 teaspoon fenugreek seed

1 pound serrano chilies, washed and dried completely, then stemmed and thinly sliced

2 teaspoons turmeric

1/4 cup salt

1 cup light sesame oil

Juice of 4 to 6 lemons

1. Combine mustard seeds, asafetida and fenugreek seeds in small frying pan and toast over medium heat, stirring often, until very fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to spice grinder and grind to powder.

2. Put sliced chilies in large non-aluminum bowl. Add ground spices, turmeric and salt and stir to coat chilies with spices. Spoon mixture into two sterilized pint bottles, cap and set aside overnight at room temperature.

3. The next day, heat the oil to smoking in small saucepan over medium heat. Pour slowly over chilies in the jars; chilies will sizzle and foam. Cap bottle and set on sunny windowsill for 1 day.

4. The next day, add enough lemon juice to cover chilies. Cap bottles again and set in sun for 3 to 4 more days. Refrigerate and eat within 2 to 3 weeks.

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I use green serranos... Which recipe were you referring to Caped Chef? I think the lemon pickle maybe? But the lemon pickle does not have turmeric. And the green chili pickle has turmeric but no red pepper....

Confused here. :blink:

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I will forgive you just this one time for making such a HUGE mistake. :angry:

Did you not read the name of the recipe????? :cool:

Just kidding! :biggrin:

That is just fine... I make stuffed red chile peppers. Will share the recipes for that in my cook book. They are most amazing.

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I would take any pickle recipe,I can't cook now because I have a back full of these silly staples holding me together,but I can assure you,when I am better I will be preparing your recipes with a smile on my face :biggrin:

Turnip Greens are Better than Nothing. Ask the people who have tried both.

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When you can cook, let me know.. and I shall PM you a great recipe for you to make. It will be in my book.. and it is a rare pickle recipe. I would love to post it here.. but think it is worth revealing in the book.

Hope you recover very soon.

Thanks for sharing so generously all that you do. It is great for all of us.

And welcome to the site and to the Indian forum officially.


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Thank you very much Suvir,

I have really enjoyed learning from you,and look forward to your special pickle recipe :)

Turnip Greens are Better than Nothing. Ask the people who have tried both.

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When I first began enjoying Indian food on a regular basis, around the late 70s, I would frequently order mango chutney with my meal, or, if it was a complete thali, this would often come automatically. I deduced that if I liked mango chutney, I'd probably like mango pickles, right? Wrong! How horribly salty and stark tasting, I thought, and no subtlety whatsoever. Lime pickles tasted even worse to me. For years, though I continued to enjoy Indian food, I put the thought of ever ordering pickles out of mind, sticking to my chutneys and raitas instead. Then, circa the late 80's, I started going to Jackson Diner in Jackson Heights, Queens. This was back when it was arguably the best Indian restaurant in the NYC Metro area, a claim it can no longer come close to making. Anyway, they put mixed pickles out on their buffet, and despite my aversion, I would sometimes place a tiny spoonful of these on my plate just out of morbid curiosity. I would manage a small bite between morsels of the other foods I loaded up on. Maybe two or three such bites during the course of the entire meal. Hmmm, I thought, not as bad as I remembered. Still not tasty, but seemed somehow appropriate to the cuisine. I would hit Jackson Diner maybe twice a month in those days, and each time I'd take some pickles, and finally they began getting their own small condiment plate, instead of occupying a mere corner of my larger plate. I'd sample more and more between bites, and eventually I began actually craving the taste almost as a palate cleanser. Sure did do a good job of halting the tastes of the other spices, so after some pickle, the next bite of another dish would taste anew. I still did not think they were in any way delicious, but they were now a necessary part of my Indian dining experience. Fast forward another decade or so, and I'd say in the late 90s is when I started appreciating the actual taste of them, and not merely their presence along with other foods. Sure took me long enough! I have a couple of questions regarding Indian pickles. First - about their salt content. Is it any higher than the typical American style sour pickle? American pickles don't taste too salty to me, they taste just-right salty, even though a quick read of their nutrition labels would illicit a "yikes" on sodium content. Indian pickles, even though I really like them now, still taste way saltier than American sour pickles. Another question I have is regarding mango pickles, specifically. Is it by design that part of the pit is left on? Or is this more a result of an automation process? It seems to me that it helps the mango slices hold their crescent-like shape, so I am guessing it is meant to be. Finally, I will leave you all with a recommendation for my current favorite Indian pickles served in a restaurant. This would be at The Indian Taj, Jackson Heights, same block as Jackson Diner. They serve a lemon & chile pickle, on the medium to mild side, but they also serve it with added sliced carrot and small bits of cauliflower. Heavenly! The waiter tells me that only the lemon and chile is long term pickled, and that they add the sliced carrot and cauliflower to the brine later. These pickles might also serve as a re-introduction to someone who has been turned off to the taste of sharper pickles, much as I was more than twenty years ago.

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Thanks for the great post.

The mothers, grandmas and chefs decide if they want to use the pith or not. Like with meats, many Indians believe t he pith adds more flavor. Some like my sister love to chew on the pith and in doing so savor every bit of spiced oil and spices that had adhered to it.

So there is no set rule. It really is personal taste if people choose to make it with or without pith. In fact when pickles are made at home, some homes make a version without any skin. Just juliennes of mango.

If you read the first post, you will realize how pickling is an art form that is revered and also left in the hands of those one most trusts. Some also believe that the person that makes the pickles has to be someone you trust and also someone very clean. For in their hands lies the health of many others.

I am glad you enjoy the addition of the veggies to the mango pickle at the restaurant.

I love pickled cauliflower, carrots, radishes and even eggplant. But at homes they are made in several different ways. And each one is amazing. In my forthcoming cookbook I will share some recipes t hat are not too difficult to be accepted by the palate that is not easily charmed by the flavors of some of these too exotic pickles.

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Haggis, I really enjoyed your story about "growing to love pickles"theres something to be said for including a bit of ones personal food conundrums to elevate ones interest in a post

Turnip Greens are Better than Nothing. Ask the people who have tried both.

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I have a recipe for an "Indian" onion jam that works so well with anything that I make vast batches of it and freeze. It is particularly good with cold meats and cheese, but it is also good mixed into yoghurt to serve with spicy food

SPICES ( whole )

Cinnamon Stick - Broken in Half

Cummin Seeds

Fennel Seeds

2 black Cardomon pods

2 Dry Chillies


1 Tsp Fennugreek

1 Tsp Chilli powder

1 Tsp Sugar


1 2in piece of ginger ( peeled and chopped finely )

2 fat cloves of garlic

4 Large Spanish onions peeled and sliced into rings

Fry the whole spices in nut oil until they lose their rawness. Turn the heat down a little and add the ginger and garlic. Sweat these for a minute or so and then add the gound spices and sweat for a further minute. If it begins to stick don't add more oil, add a tsp of water.

Turn the heat down as low as possible and add the onions. Stir them around to be sure they are covered with the spiced oil and cover the pan and leave to cook for 1hr. Keep an eye on it to make sure it does not burn. The slow cooking releases the sugars from the onions making a wonderful hot and sour flavour.

This is wonderful served hot ( as a bed for grilled fish ) or cold with a good hard cheddar.


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  • 1 year later...

Pickles are so intriguing. I come from Andhra - where we make lot of 'avakayi' (mango pickle). Mango pickles come in so many forms. Mango is cut into small pieces to make instant pickle. Or cut into cubes or grated to make different pickles that last for a year. Everytime someone comes from India, my mom sends me pickles made from coriander leaves (yummy, excellent with hot rice & ghee), ginger pickle (we have it with yogurt or mix in yogurt to the chutney to serve along with pesarattu or dosa), mango pickle and very hot red chili pickle (made from ripe red chilies). Other regulars at home are chicken avakayi (chicken pickle), prawn avakayi (prawn pickle), tomato pickle, carrot pickle or green papaya pickle.... The list is endless..

Anyway, here's my mom's instant tomato pickle I make and my friends love...

1 big tomato (first cut in half & then into long thin slices)

2-3 green chilies (cut lengthwise)

1 1/2 t red chili powder

1/4 t turmeric

salt to taste

1/8 t fenugreek seeds (slightly crushed)

3 cloves garlic (crushed)

1 t lemon juice

1/4 t jeera (slightly crushed)

pinch garam masala

1/4 c oil

Mix all of them together & let stand for 2 hours. Then it is ready to serve. It stays well for 3 days. So make in small batches.

Let me know how it turns out...

Edited by Sujatha (log)
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