Head to Himachal’s Chamba district and you will be welcomed by the distinct aroma of a tangy condiment called chukh. The red, hot and tangy pickle from the hills is commonly eaten with parathas in the region. However, it’s use is not limited to being a side dish for parathas but a spicy condiment that can be a chutney one day and a dip the other. While the packaged pickles are readily available, the freshness and flavour of homemade pickle remains unmatched. Chukh is one such home-grown pickle, found in the Chamba valley of Himachal Pradesh. 

Also Read: Kuler Achaar, The Underrated, Sweet Bengali Pickle

Traditionally made with locally-produced red chillies called Chitrali chillies, chukh is a result of these sun-dried chillies. Sometimes, green chillies are also used in place of red. The smoky aroma of these chillies is well-complimented by the local citrus fruits that are used for basting. The extract of the Himachali lime called gulgul is generally utilized in the preparation of this pickle, along with other spices. Slow-cooked over fire, the resulting thick paste is then cooled down and sold off in glass bottles. 

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Pickle, for the uninitiated, is a condiment that is made by preserving fruits and vegetables in oil, salt water or vinegar. This increases the shelf life of these items and lends a distinct flavour, aroma and texture to the fruits and vegetables used. Pickling is actually an ancient tradition in India, believed to have been started by Mesopotamians some 4000 years ago. Historians suggest that pickling began as a way of preserving non-seasonal fruits and vegetables. Since this practice increased the shelf-life of food items, it was also beneficial for the mariners who set off on long journeys in the sea. Gradually, this method picked up pace and today, you’ll find several countries across the globe, eating pickles out of jars and cans. 

What makes Chukh stand apart from the other pickles is the versatility with which it can be used. The hot and fiery paste can be a pickle, a chutney, a dip or a spread too. You can pair it with your parathas in the morning, use it as a spread that can be applied to bread to make a sandwich or even add it to your vegetables and curries to enhance the spiciness of the dish. In fact, Chukh works as a great marinade for meats like chicken and fish too. 

There are several variations of Chukh that are usually made in the Chamba region. Some might like to keep the spiciness intact while there are others who balance the hotness of the pickle with the addition of honey and dry fruits, lending a subtle sweetness to the tangy condiment. The availability of the special Chitrali chillies is limited to the Chamba region and alternatives like Guntur phool are being increasingly used to make Chukh. Interestingly, while a pickle isn’t usually cooked but simply fermented, Chukh is actually slow-cooked which makes it so unqiue. 

Here’s a quick recipe of chukh if you’d like to try.