Most Indian households have a pickling tradition.
As the cold winters wither away, the sun’s rays warm the land, and raw green mangoes appear everywhere. As one of the most popular choices for an Indian pickle, the raw mangoes undergo a very thorough process to reach their final pickled state.
In my family, my aunts took up the responsibility to make spicy mango pickles.
I never saw that mysterious pickling process. I just knew it was something that took a lot of time to prep, and you had to wait a few days to eat them.
When the mango pickle was ready, I savoured the thick dark green peels and soft flesh of the mango, now completely transformed. Sometimes we had them with lunch and dinner, and sometimes with the mathis or mathris that Punjabis love. They’re a thick, flaky, brittle snack, usually salty, and they go perfectly well with pickles.
You break off a piece of the mathi, dip it into the pickle, then quickly push it into your mouth so the oils of the pickle don’t drip. Then you let the pickle’s juices flow and you bite into the mathi.
This was one of my favourite snacks as a child.
But some time in my 20s, I went on a health streak. And Indian pickles went struck off my list of approved foods.
They were too oily, too greasy, contained too much salt, and were generally extremely unhealthy. At that point, I completely stopped eating those beloved pickles. And frankly, if I wanted to cheat and unhealthy things, there were a gazillion other things to choose from, like chocolates and French fries and pizzas.
Around five years ago, I read The Beauty Diet by Shonali Sabherwal (you can read more on her website).
I loved her explanations of different types of food and their effects on our bodies. Among other things, she introduced me to the toxicity of sugar, the importance of whole grains (jowar, bajra, rajgira) and how to eat a balanced, well-rounded, satisfying meal. One of the crucial elements she recommends: pickle.
Of course, I was surprised by that. But then Shonali wrote about quick pickles and stressed that pickles don’t always need to be oily or salty or spicy, and don’t always need weeks to be ready.
A couple years ago, I had a leftover carrot in my refrigerator and I looked up a quick pickle recipe online. The result was a bright and beautiful carrot pickle, steeped in flavour.
And thanks to that by-chance experiment, I re-found my lost love for pickles!
Too much oil and salt is generally a bad idea, but a quick pickle can taste just as good.
Even in ayurvedic principles of eating, having quick pickles with your meals is advocated. Even nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar recommends pickles (more in this story from Outlook).
Pickles are fermented and are said to be good for gut bacteria because they function work as probiotics. Whatever your reason, pickles made the right way can be good for us. I can vouch for this—I felt quite good when I had pickles with my lunch. I especially felt fuller much longer than usual.
Last week, I tried this quick pickle recipe with cauliflower that was errr… super quick (obviously!), easy and super flexible. I used a bit of regular white vinegar with very little apple cider vinegar, a sprinkle of turmeric (for colour) and a threw in a few pieces of star anise to the jar.
In just a couple of hours, my cauliflower pickle had a delightful sweet-sourish flavour, and the star anise gave it a subtle kick.
But here is a version of another quick pickle recipe I’ve tried a couple times, written by the lovely Madhur Jaffrey. The result is always super delicious.
Since I have a refined sugar-free kitchen, I used local jaggery (gur).
Be careful with the amount of spices and vinegar you use because the flavours of the spices are quite strong.
Quick Mixed Vegetable Pickle
(adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe).
3 tbsp jaggery (cane sugar)
150ml cider vinegar (you can use lesser)
100ml extra virgin olive oil (or a vegetable oil you like)
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
400g small cauliflower florets
5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 5cm pieces
225g baby turnips, peeled and halved
2 tsp whole brown mustard seeds, ground in a clean coffee grinder
2 tsp salt
a mixture of 1 tsp chilli powder and 1½ tsp bright red paprika (I use only chill powder)
½ tsp garam masala
Heat a small pan on low flame, and add the jaggery and vinegar. Stir occasionally till the jaggery dissolves. Then turn off the heat.
Pour the oil into a large pan set over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add garlic and ginger and stir for 30 seconds.
Add the cauliflower, carrots and turnips to the pan. Stir the vegetables and cook for about a minute or until the vegetables are coated with oil but still crisp.
Get the heat down to low and add the ground mustard, salt, chilli powder and paprika mixture and garam masala. Stir and mix for a minute or two until the vegetables are coated in the spices.
Pour in the jaggery-vinegar mixture and stir. Take off the heat and allow the pickle to cool.
Transfer the pickle into one or two clean jars and place in refrigerator.
You can enjoy the pickle immediately, though it can last for up to three weeks in the fridge.