When I hear the word pickle, I think of cucumber spears made with dill and vinegar that I buy at the store or the sweet slices my grandmother used to make. I have fond memories of my grandmother’s delicious homemade bread and butter pickles and now wish I had her recipe. I was happily surprised when I discovered the wonderful world of Indian pickles.
Serving Indian Pickle
Indian pickles are an important component to every meal as one or two different ones are included in the menu. Considered condiments, they are eaten along with rice and pappad or eaten by themselves. Each state has its unique recipes, ingredients and tastes for pickles. The only things they have in common are that everyone loves them and thinks the ones from their state are the best.
Indian pickles are usually made with oil as the primary preservative. North Indian pickles typically use mustard oil while South Indian pickles frequently use sesame oil. Salt, vinegar and turmeric are also key ingredients in the preservation process. Some recipes require the main ingredient to sit in salt for a few days before preparing the pickle. If handled correctly they can be stored for years without refrigeration. The official jar for storing pickles in Kerala is called barrony, a glazed ceramic pot with a tight fitting lid (see photo). I brought back a selection of small pots the last time I visited India. They are attractive but mine are too small to be functional for storing pickles. I store mine in glass jars in my refrigerator just to be safe.
Spices are used to give them their distinctive flavor. The ones I have noticed most often are garlic, ginger, chili powder, fenugreek, mustard seeds and asafetida. Other spices may be used as desired. Another variation between pickles is the way the key ingredients are prepared. Some recipes, like my Lemon Pickle or Shrimp Pickle, cook the main ingredient. Other recipes dry them in the sun like Kerala’s traditional Mango Pickle. Using the main ingredient raw is a third approach to preparing pickle.
Speaking of main ingredients, the list of them seems to be limitless. Almost any vegetable and some fruits can be turned into a pickle. Some of the most popular are unripe mango, unripe papaya, lemons, limes, onions, garlic, ginger, tomato, gooseberries and green chiles. My mother-in-law and her sisters are experts at Kerala style pickles. They would make them in the summer when the best fruit is in season. One of my family’s favorites is Kadu Manga Pickle that is made from a special variety of small green mango that is only about an inch or two long. Another popular ingredient is seafood; Kerala is famous for its shrimp and fish pickles.
In India there are thousands of varieties of pickles. No two pickles are the same since the recipes not only vary by state but by family. These are secret recipes that are not written down so they can’t be claimed by anyone else.
Pickles are very easy to make. If you don’t have time to make them, Indian grocery stores carry many popular brands and flavors. Check them out but they are always tastier if made at home.
Visit KachisKitchen.com for Indian recipes and cooking tips.
All text and photographic content are property of KachisKitchen.com and are not to be used without permission of the author.