If you grew up in northern India in the 80s when the sandwich & muffin culture had still not hit the subcontinent, most of you would have eaten rolled up greasy parathas (flatbread) with achaar(pickle) and a dry sabzi for school lunch. I remember that during our half hour lunch break, first fifteen minutes were to eat inside the class after which you could walk out and play or move around the school complex.I am sure many of you would have tasted pickles from friend’s dabba and talked lengths of it to mom till the point of sounding mean. If she gave into your meanness, you would find her next day noting down the recipe from your friend’s mother at the end of the school hours.
In India, pickles or achaar is a line of cuisine in itself. Quite unlike the way western world understands pickling with vinegar and minimal spices or herbs, indian achaar are preserved in litres of oil, cups of salt and sack full of spices.You don’t call it a pickle unless oil runs down your fingers when you pick up a nibble and a strong, piquant aroma fills up the nostrils. Each and every home has a unique recipe or more depending on how the ladies of the house like to preserve their jar. Usually served as a part of meal for that tang and heat or to aid digestion or just to entice the senses, a few bottles of pickles form a part of every Indian kitchen varying in produce from season to season.In my home, the pickled root vegetables are stocked in winter months and usually both red & green chilies are pickled around spring but summer is for limes and of course, the mango!
I found kairis (small tart, indian variety green mangoes) a couple of weeks back at our local store. For the last four years or so that I have been a regular there,this was the first time ever I spotted these.Still questioning if they were the actual ones (aka direct export from India), I only bought home six or seven,thinking all the way of what all I want to do with them.The first thing I did after putting the bags down was to rush to the kitchen and cut open a piece with a sharp knife and there it was – a white, opaque soft seed and tart flesh.I sniffed the sweet but tangy aroma.OMG, this is it. They were the real deal! I pestered the husband immediately to rush back and if anyone of you saw a crazy woman coming out of the store with couple of pounds of green mangoes in the South Las Vegas area, now you know who it was.
This achaar with raw,green mangoes is sour and hot.I use virgin mustard oil for preserving it and it lends the unique taste and aroma to it. Raw mangoes are chopped into small pieces,dried in the sun, mixed with different spices to give an aromatic & bitter note then covered in oil for the pungency. The sun cooking (fermentation) for a few days eliminates the need of refrigeration to keeps it well for a up to a year.The concentration of salt, oil and spices act as a natural preservative and you don’t need of any chemical to enhance its shelf life.
Never under salt the pickle, it will go bad within few weeks.
If you do not like the strong taste of mustard oil, you can heat it up to do away the raw smell, cool down and then add.
The kind of mangoes I used were really tart and so the pickle came out quite tangy. If you do not get pickling mangoes, add some amchoor (dry mango powder) to the recipe for a tart note.
This is not an instant pickle recipe, the pickle is sun fermented and takes 7-10 days to mature and get ready to consume.
Wash and pat dry the mangoes. Cut and discard the top stem and then cut them into half, remove and discard the seed & membrane and then cut into small cubes. Layer the cubes on a wide plate, sprinkle 1/2 tsp of salt and let sit in sun for 1-2 days till the skins starts to dry on edges and turning pale green. At the end of the day, remove and discard any liquid that has collected.
Using your coffee grinder, coarsely pulse the saunf, methi,kalonji and mustard seeds. In a small bowl mix these with turmeric, chili and hing, mix well.
Place the mango pieces in a wide glass dish (I use my pyrex) and add the spices mixed before. Sprinkle the salt. With a clean and dry spoon or fingers, mix well such that spices and salt loosely stick to mango pieces. Add 150 ml of mustard oil and mix it well. At this point, the achaar will have a very strong smell and a bitter taste but that’s okay. Allow it to stand in full sun for two days. Try to stir the achaar once or twice a day with a clean, dry spoon.
On the third day transfer the achaar into a glass or porcelain jar, check and adjust the salt and top with remaining oil and mix well. Cover the mouth of the jar with a muslin cloth, tie with a string and let mature for seven to ten days in sun. ( this time will depend on the strength of sun in the area you live).Stir the contents once or twice a day.
At the end of sun fermentation, the skin of the mango would be brownish and the strong, bitter taste will go away. Store at room temperature for up to 10-12 months. Always use a clean spoon to serve the pickle.