Its no secret that Indians love tongue tickling food, we love lashings of sharp, tart and pungent tastes to accompany our curries, dhals, and even desserts. My mum loves lime pickle with her payasam (kheer/dessert), she loves it so much that she has always strived hard for me to enjoy the same, its another matter that I prefer mango pickle over lime with my payasam. My mother finds a will and way to make every conceivable kind of pickle during any season, and so at my place, every season becomes pickling season for something or another.
At the onset of summer small mangoes sprout from tantalizingly fragrant mango blossoms that earlier drove the bees and wasps into passionate frenzy. When some delicate, and as yet tender mangoes fall on the earth, they are picked up in great hurry, cleared of grime and steeped in brine. Mango season gives way to hog plums (ambazhanga) followed by lime and lemons, gooseberries, ginger, chillies, orange peel, and then the winter vegetables.
In the west and even here in the middle east I find that pickles are usually vegetables stored in brine, but in India pickles are a whole different industry. We have everything right from simple fruits and vegetables in brine to the more complex versions with loads of red chilly, ginger, garlic, and several other condiments. Each region of India has a different method of pickling, and even preferences over the condiments and oil used for pickling. Pickles in northern parts of India are usually made with mustard oil, while down south the preferred oil is sesame oil. In this respect traditional Kerala pickles are different in the sense that they use no oil and are preserved in brine, though now times have changed and oil is used for seasoning some pickles. This chilly pickle is one of our family favourites and my mum used to make kilos of it using large red chilly peppers that would appear in the markets during winters.
To start with scrub these chillies in water, drain and wipe dry with a kitchen cloth. Once you’ve made sure that there’s no dampness on these chillies, de-stalk them, slit them right through the middle with the joints intact and de-seed them as well. Leave the seeds in only if you have a sadomasochistic streak.
Ingredients for the stuffed chilly pickle
750 gms (about 20 to 25) large green/red chilly pepper, slit and deseeded
1. Do not be put off by the word ‘coarsely ground’, you can take all the seeds whole, lightly dry roast them in a pan and mill them together in the mixie. Just a couple of buzzes should do, because we are not trying to make a powder here, just a coarse blend of spices. Add salt, turmeric, asafoetida, combine once and plate the spice mix.
The pickle does well for upto a year, or even longer, if stored in a cool, dry place. Its perfect with Aloo Parathas or plain ol’ dal chawal.