Perfectly piquant, these winter pickles are a thing of pure joy
Pickles—on our side of the world—are synonymous with summer. Essentially tropical bounties—mangoes mostly—are dried in the sun, brined in masalas and stored in porcelain jars, enough to last a year. The versatile lemon too has its time in the sun and is tossed in pickle recipes that pack unparalleled umami. But winter pickles are a completely different league. Interestingly, they have now become a staple and for some food enthusiasts, a worthwhile project for lazy winter afternoons. The process of drying ingredients in the warm winter sun may seem like too much of an effort—it’s not. Instead, it lets you appreciate the beauty of nature. In fact, the aerial view of some cities includes a rich tapestry of chatais rolled out on the terrace, allowing the ingredients that would go into these pickles to bake under the sun.
Growing up on a farm, celebrity chef Ranveer Brar’s food memories are mostly about eating what grew around him and what was in season. “I learned tips in resourcefulness and food preservation from my grandmother and mother. And indeed, while the kitchen would be filled with the aroma of raw mangoes and spices in the summers, winters were salivatingly memorable with the shalgam-gobi-gajar achaar or a raw mooli (radish) relish that would be served with hot parathas.”
Brar tells Slurrp, “Eating seasonal is intrinsic to Indian cuisine. While pickling as a means of conserving food has been prevalent across various civilisations from centuries ago, pickling in oil is unique to our cuisine. There are numerous winter pickle varieties in India, and it is difficult to put a number on them. My personal favourites are the Kashmiri monji or kohlrabi achaar and the Gujarati turmeric pickle called haldar nu athanu, which is more like a relish.”
Brar explains that as much as the base pickle ingredient, the accompanying spices are just as important, because of our concept of taahseer (i.e the inherent cooling or heating properties of ingredients).
“Pickle is an excellent palate stimulant and is one of the few foods that have all the six tastes or Shadrasas - Sweet, sour, salty, pungent (spicy), astringent and bitter. In the cold season when digestion or appetite dips a little, pickles (eaten in moderation) can be a great addition to meals,” he adds.
While there isn’t a drastic change in weather in the southern states of India, the northern states witness a drastic change in clothes and food during winters. Winters make way for a whole range of vegetables like greens, radish, carrots, turnip, knol khol, green peas, jackfruit, and cauliflowers.
Chef Inderjeet Nagpal of Rummys Kitchen says, “We use these veggies to make a lot of healthy dishes, but pickling them is my favourite thing to do in winters. You’ll find gobi-gajar-shalgam achar in every north Indian household. My favourite though is green peas pickle, grapes pickle, kachaloo pickle and jackfruit pickle. They are unique and lip-smacking. The green peas one uses the peel too and is mildly sweet and peppery. Jackfruit pickle has sharp spices like saunf, methi and kalonji and is made in mustard oil. It's spicy and pungent. Kachaloo - another winter root vegetable is often used in chaats but I prefer pickling it in dry spices and mustard seeds.”
Nagpal says, “Fermented food, like pickles, are an important part of our diet. In many cultures, a meal is often incomplete without it. This oldest method of preservation is healthy, probiotic and very good for digestion. I learnt to make pickles from her mother. It was a ritual - I used to sit with my mom and help her in everything, from cutting and making. But the best part was to eat fresh pickle while it was being made. While she’d scold me to not put my hand inside the jar, ’d do it anyway.”
Chef Karan Manavalan, who runs Chakos Pickles that specialises in Kerala pickles, tells us that the concept of winter pickles is not very common in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
“It could be because these states don’t necessarily have strong winters as in the North. I belong to a Christian Mallu - Tamilian family and meat pickles are an extremely common delicacy amongst this community and are often had during winters because they are lighter on the stomach as opposed to having them during summers. My pickles are a version of the recipes passed down from my grandmother,” he adds.
Drink it up!
Another winter speciality is the kaali gajar (black carrot) which is used to make a drink called kanji. Nagpal tells us it is a very healthy, fermented probiotic drink whose yellow variant is made with mustard, spices and carrots.
Do and don'ts
Fresh is key. Avoid using vegetables stored in the refrigerator for too long.
Keep pickles away from water.
Consider creating smaller batches at a time.
Don’t rush the process.
Keep it closed, preferably in a glass jar so that it stays for longer.
Here’s a recipe of Haldar Nu Athanu/ Fresh Turmeric Pickle by Ranveer Brar
100 gms Fresh mango ginger, peeled and julienned (amba haldi)
60 gms Fresh turmeric root, peeled and julienned (taazi haldi)
3 green chillies, slit lengthwise
1 cup Lime juice
2 tbsp Salt
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. This pickle is ready to serve after 1-2 hours. Store refrigerated in an airtight container or a glass jar for up to one week.
Gobi Gajar Shalgam
1 kg Cauliflower, washed and cut in small pieces
1 kg Carrots, washed and cut in cubes
1 kg Turnip, peeled, washed and sliced
¼ cup Salt
3 tbsp Kashmiri Red chili powder
7 nos Black Cardamom
2 nos Cinnamon sticks
1 tsp Cloves
2 tbsp Haldi
2 tbsp Mustard seeds
4 tbsp Fennel powder
3 tbsp Methi dana powder
2 tbsp Spicy red powder
1 cup Jaggery
1/2 cup Chopped Garlic
1/2 cup Ginger paste
¾ cup Vinegar
3 cup Mustard oil
3 tbsp Mustard powder
Put the vegetables in hot water, strain and spread them on a clean paper towel.
Allow the vegetables to dry in the sun or the oven.
Combine vinegar and jaggery in a pan and bring the jaggery syrup to a boil till it is melted.
Heat mustard oil in a wok till it starts to fume. Slow down the flame and add mustard seeds, ginger-garlic paste to it. Sauté until the ginger-garlic mix becomes slightly brown. Once cooked, add all the dry spices, black cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves and mix well and add the vegetables. Then add the vinegar and jaggery mix, and salt and mustard powder. Mix everything until well blended. Switch off the gas and allow the pickle to cool completely. Then transfer the pickle to a clean, sterilised, dry jar.
Place the jar in the mild sun to mature. It will take at least 2-3 days.
Make sure the vegetables are dried very well. If there is moisture in the vegetables, the pickle will get spoilt. Gobhi gajar shalgam achar has a long shelf life and can be preserved for a longer time. Place the pickle jar in direct sunlight to let it ferment properly. The more the achar matures, the better it tastes.