Mango in a bit of a pickle

This pickle is a special one and for a good reason. During my university days in London I shared a house with some other friends, and we would invariably land up having a house party on Saturday nights. When we woke up the nest morning, we would find ourselves in the midst of at least a dozen hungry boys and girls. Being Indian, you just could not let your ‘guests’ leave without being fed. Invariably, we would turn to making Aloo Parathas,  layered bread stuffed with a spicy potato filling.
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I remember, one friend would readily begin to knead a mountain of dough, another would start rolling out the parathas at the speed of light and I would make the filling and fry the breads in pure ghee by the dozens. The parathas would be served with big dollop of butter ( as if the oozing ghee wasn’t enough), yoghurt and a shop bought mango pickle that was made in Pakistan. Over the year this big jar of mango pickle became a constant in my pantry and I wouldn’t settle for anything else. So when I relocated to India, I found myself in a bit of a ‘pickle’ at not being able to find the one without which my parathas were incomplete. My search high and low at stores, specialised pickle shops, even food exhibitions remained elusive. So three years ago, I decided to give a shot at replicating that pickle, infusing it with the flavours and spices that I so missed. Every summer, when the lovely deep green mangoes begin to appear at the local market, it’s time for me to bottle them up, enough to last for the year. Here’s how I do it.

Ingredients

  • Large green mangoes – 1 kg, diced into small pieces
  • Mild green chillies – 100 grams (optional)
  • Lemons – 2, juiced
  • Mustard oil- 250 millilitres
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    Spices
  • Ground turmeric – 2 teaspoons
  • Ground red chilli powder – 2 teaspoons
  • Nigella seeds – 2 tablespoons
  • Fennel seeds – 2 tablespoons
  • Fenugreek seeds – 2 tablespoons
  • Yellow mustard seed flakes – 2 tablespoons
  • Salt – 3 tablespoons

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Method

Begin by placing the diced mangoes, with the skin on, seeds removed in a large bowl such that it’s only half full. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of turmeric over the mangoes and give it a good stir with a flat spoon. Now the thing with pickles is that you must avoid touching the ingredients with your hands and keep the bowls and spoons really clean and dry. Doing this is important to prevent the pickle from going mouldy and will make them last a whole year or even more. I have heard of pickles that would last for years and are a bit like vintage wine, only getting better with age.

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Cover the bowl with a plate and let the salt work its magic for an hour to remove the fluids from the mango. You will find a little puddle at the bottom of the bowl at the end of an hour, carefully strain out the liquids through a colander. In a large tray, spread out a clean tea towel and spread mango pieces such that they are in a single layer. Leave this to dry in a airy room or preferably in direct sunlight for 4-5 hours. During this time, the remaining liquids and moisture from the mangoes will get absorbed by the towel and evaporate in the sunlight. This is a critical part of the preservation process and this  is what helps to retain the crunch of the mangoes and make the pickle last. You must be patient during this time – I like to tackle my weekend chores or go away shopping to return to a home filled with the aroma of mangoes and chillies.

While the drying is in progress, take one tablespoon each of the whole spices and crush them in a pestle- mortar or spice grinder till coarse, such that you are left with a fine and grainy mixture.

After 4 hours, transfer the mangoes and the whole chillies with their stems intact in to a large bowl with sufficient room to stir. If you don’t have a large enough bowl, divide them up into two smaller bowls. Sprinkle in the ground spices, remaining half of the whole spices, turmeric, chilli powder, lemon juice, salt and pour in the oil and give it a really good mix so that the spices and oil are evenly distributed. Taste the salt and adjust according to your taste.

Sterilise one or two glass jars with a tight screw top and spoon in the pickle, taking care to evenly distribute the oil between the jars if using more than one jar. Screw the jars and store them in a cool place for at least 7-10 days. While there is nothing stopping you from eating them earlier, allowing the pickle to absorb all the flavours from the fragrant spices and the oil for a few days is what makes it truly worth the wait. As the pickle ‘matures’, you will find that the flavours intensify and grow mellow over the months.

The best accompaniment for this pickle are hot parathas with dollops of pure ghee and butter but you can serve this as a condiment to roast meats, breads or rice, lentil and curry dishes.
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Notes

  • Traditionally, preparing Indian pickles entails no definite measurements. If I were to ask my Mom or grandma on proportion of spices, salt, oil etc, it’s always indicative, a fistful of salt, a few pinches of spices, a few big lugs of oil etc. So while I have provided measurements, please do adjust the salt, chilli, lemon juice as per your taste;
  • It is vital to let the mangoes dry up for few hours, do not hurry this step;
    Mustard oil is what which gives this pickle the unique flavour and taste. If you find it too pungent or can’t find it, you can try using olive oil but it will change the end result significantly;
  • Using whole chillies is totally optional. While it may seem like a lot of chillies, using them whole cuts out the heat while infusing a beautiful depth of flavour;
  • You can add variation to this pickle by adding other vegetables like carrots, gooseberries and follow the same process as for the mangoes;
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