Kassie, her husband, another friend and I all survived the great pickle tasting, so it’s time for some recipes. Although there are three pickles in the above picture I only have two recipes for you: the achaarro and the tomato pickle. Of the four pickle taste testers, only one liked the cornichons. The rest of us found them overly sharp and vinegary. The cornichon-loving friend is going to find himself getting a bottle on his birthday, and another for Christmas, and yet another for New Year’s…
The clear winner was the tomato pickle, ranked first by every tester. I understand now why my parents wax nostalgic every time I asked about them. It has all the tang and concentrated tomato-y goodness of ketchup, but fresher and spicier. The versatility of this pickle already has already cracked my anti-fusion puritanism, as I use it in everything from mixing a homemade barbeque sauce for smoking to slathering it on a grilled pork sausage to garnishing a simple bowl of curd rice.
The achaaro came a distant second to the tomato pickle, but was also delicious. The vegetables had retained their color and crunch after their long soak in vinegar, and the spicy mustard, sweet vegetable and sharp vinegar are well-balanced. I have been munching on these with almost every meal as well.
I now understand the appeal of having pickles around the house. Aside from the practical concerns preserving the harvest through the winter, pickles make every meal special . They cut through the heavyness of meat and make every mouthful come alive. At times of the year when fresh vegetables weren’t available, they taste alive and fresh. Pickling has been around a lot longer than canning (which Kassie tells me wasn’t invented until the early 18th century); when I pickle, I think of my great-grandmothers pickling chilies, limes, and mangoes in Sri Lanka. And here I am, many years later, thousands of miles away, keeping tradition.
And besides, it’s just so pretty.
South Indian Tomato Pickle
They don’t make this in Sri Lanka. My parents found the recipe in Charmaine Solomon’s Complete Guide to Asian Cooking, my mother’s only cookbook for many years.
10 lbs roma tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 golf-ball sized sphere of tamarind, soaked in hot water
1 tsp turmeric
1/4 c. cayenne pepper
1/4 c. peanut oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 large handful curry leaves
10-20 green chilies
1 small head garlic, cloves peeled and chopped
3 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
1/2 c. peanut oil
Salt to taste
1. Wring out tamarind and discard fibrous material. Heat oil in large stockpot, add tomatoes, tamarind water, cayenne pepper and turmeric. Simmer until tomatoes are dark and thick, stirring occasionally. This will take a long time. Ours were on the stove for almost four hours.
2. When tomatoes are ready, heat 1/2 c. oil in a large frying pan. When oil is hot, add mustard seeds, curry leaves, garlic, ginger, and fresh chilies. Saute until garlic is golden. Careful not to burn it!
3. Add garlic-ginger mixture to tomatoes, simmer ten minutes. Pour into sterilized bottles and seal. Kassie and I agreed that the antibacterial properties of the spices and the acid of the tamarind and tomatoes would keep us safe from botulism and other scary germs, so we didn’t bother to process. You’re welcome to, if that’s a concern for you.
This is a mixed vegetable pickle. It’s impossible to give exact ingredients and quantities. Use a mixture of carrots, cauliflower, green beans, shallots, garlic, fresh chilies, and banana peppers.
Enormous quantity of cider vinegar sufficient to cover the vegetables once they’re in their bottles.
1/2 c. mustard seed, soaked overnight in white vinegar to cover
2 inch piece of ginger
1. Open all your windows and get a couple of exhaust fans going.
2. Grind mustard seed, vinegar, and ginger in blender.
3. Bring vinegar to boil and blanch vegetables in it. Arrange vegetables in sterilized jars. Place 1 tbsp of mustard mixture in each jar. Pour vinegar over the vegetables. Seal and process if you wish (we didn’t).
*Achaaro comes from the Hindi word Achaar. It’s called achaar all over the Indian Sub-Continent and all over Southeast Asia, except in Sri Lanka, where it’s called achaaro. Don’t know why.
Sources: My mom, Suharshini Seneviratne’s Exotic Tastes of Sri Lanka