What is Pickling?

‘Pickling’ is a process wherein we preserve food by immersing it in vinegar or salt brine, for an extended amount of time. Pickled food is found almost everywhere; like the kosher cucumber pickles in New York, salted duck eggs in China, Kimchi in Korea, Salsa in Mexico, Aam Ka Achar in India, and Miso in Japan. It is a substantial part of global culinary art and culture.

The most popular pickles in India are Chukh in Himachal Pradesh, Kolhapuri Thecha in Maharashtra, Gajar, Gobi, and Shalgam ka Achar in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, Avakaya in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, and Chicken and Shrimp Pickle in Kerala.

There are two broad methods of pickling. The first is to soak the food in vinegar. In this method, the bacteria formed has little chance of survival. Popular foods pickled in vinegar are cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, and olives.

The second method is to soak the food in brine to encourage fermentation, which helps in the growth of good bacteria. Along with the good bacteria, it can make the pickle vulnerable to harmful bacteria, which can spoil it. Examples of fermented pickles are tender mango, kimchi, green chilies, amla, and cucumber dill pickle.

In India, we use Sarson (Mustard) and Gingelly (Sesame) oil, Methi (Fenugreek) seeds, Turmeric, Hing (Asafoetida), rock salt, lime juice, buttermilk, and Aamchur (dried mango powder). Pickles are made out of vegetables, fruits, chicken, fish, mutton, beef, and seafood, which are quite popular among communities.

Vegetable pickle

The History of Pickling

For ages, our forefathers have found ways to pickle foods in order to preserve surplus cultivated food for famine, long and hard winters, and other times of need. In fact, over two thousand years ago in China, the workers who build the Great Wall of China used to eat a kind of fermented cabbage, known as ‘Sauerkraut’.

Pickling is not just about preserving food, it is also about changing their taste and texture. It’s fascinating to observe that pickles from different cultures have greatly contributed to food preferences.

According to the New York Food Museum, pickling dates back to 2030 BC, where cucumbers brought from native India started the tradition of pickling in the Tigris Valley. In 850 BC, Cleopatra was said to attribute her beauty to her diet, consisting of pickles. Furthermore, the healing effects of cucumbers were praised by the great scholar Aristotle.

In India, every region makes its different style, taste, and texture of pickles with similar ingredients. Mango is one fruit that can be pickled in different styles; sweet, sour, spicy, or salty. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, a regional raw mango pickle, called ‘Avakaya’, is made.

Pickling requires the right amount of clean spices, oil, and natural preservatives.

Our grandmothers used to make large quantities of pickles, which lasted for more than a year. I remember my granny used to make delicious lemon pickles, the taste of which still lingers in my mouth! The best part was that the pickles were sundried, which made their shelf life longer.

I have fond memories of helping my mother make Narthangay (Citron) pickle, a dark greenish fruit similar to orange. A lady used to sell those, and we used to buy 50 to 100 citrons from her annually. After washing and drying them, we would sit with a large Bharani (ceramic jar), and drop into it piles of rock salt and turmeric powder.

The citrons were cut into halves, its juice was extracted, and put into another container. We would fill the halved pieces with the previously mentioned salt and turmeric powder, and carefully place them on a traditional bamboo Muram. We would leave them in the sunlight, and by evening, we used to collect and place them in the Bharani.

The next day, we would pour a little citron juice on all the dried Narthangay, and leave it to dry again. This process continued until all the Narthangay dried up. Nowadays, we can cut them into pieces and store them in airtight containers.

Another yummy pickle we make called Vadu Mangai (Kadugu Mangai), consists of small tender mangoes, soaked in brine. Once they shrink to a quarter of their original size, we add red chilli powder. The brine makes the tender mango pickle a real delicacy in our households. We also make pickles out of Amla (Gooseberries), mixed veggies, lemons, mangoes, Gongura leaves, and stuffed red chillies.

Grandma’s Tips

  • Pickles in airtight and clean containers or jars prevent bacteria growth. Store them in a cool and dark place.
  • Wash and sun-dry the fruits/vegetables to prevent any water from harming its shelf life.
  • Use a dry spoon to mix in the salted ingredients on alternate days. Furthermore, use a dry knife while evenly cutting the vegetables.
  • Use a Hing cake that has been pounded and dry roasted for adding and enhancing flavor.
  • Spices and salts should be of excellent quality, and there should be no water present.
  • The best oils for yummy pickles are sesame and mustard oil.
  • It is best to use dry red chillies to make red chilli powder. Either sun-dry or dry roast them.
  • Pick lemons that don’t have spots on their skin, and fresh and firm mangoes. Vegetables selected for pickling should be very clean; peel them if necessary.
  • The time taken for the various pickling stages is of utmost importance; from drying the ingredients, roasting, allowing them to ferment, to adding spices, for delicious, long-shelf-life pickles.
My fond memories of pickling with my mother and grandmother.

Mutton Pepper Fry

At the very beginning, know that this isn’t the classic recipe. Given the primary ingredients, I had no choice but to name it so.

I do like this recipe, because I used to look at such dishes and think it certainly must take quite a while to cook it and also need a load of preparation. As we found out, it doesn’t have to.


  • Boneless meat, 1 kg, soaked in mild brine for an hour
  • Dhania-Lal Mirch masala, 2 tbsp
  • Red Chilies, 2 – 3 pieces, dried
  • Mushrooms, 1 cup, finely chopped
  • Ginger garlic paste, 1 tbsp
  • Black peppercorns, 3 tbsp, pounded
  • Onions, 1 medium, finely sliced
  • Salt to taste
  • Lemon juice to taste
  • Oil to cook


  1. Add washed meat to a pressure cooker with a little salt and cook until tender. Use your own estimation please. I use a Hawkins Futura and it took about 20 minutes, though this will vary from cooker to cooker and meat to meat. Reserved drained meat, use water someplace else, like making rajma for instance.
  2. Fry onions, add the ginger garlic paste, fry a bit more, add the dhania-lal mirch masala and fry some more, add the mushrooms, red chilies and black pepper and fry for a bit more.
  3. Add the meat and keep frying on high heat until the color of the whole concoction deepens and the masala tastes cooked.
  4. Squeeze on a generous amount of lemon juice. Season.
  5. Serve hot


  • A bowl of thick (half hung, half normal) curd on the side will taste good.
  • If you’re going to use chicken, use thighs and skip pressure cooking. Instead, just keep going on a lower flame until the chicken is cooked. If you use breast in this process, it is likely to dry out.
  • Use any red meat you want.
  • If you want to lower the spice, start with reducing the dhania-lal mirch masala a bit, then the pepper, then the dhania-lal mirch masala again, and then the pepper. Reducing chili heat this way will keep the basic nature/flavour of the dish as well as bring down the spiciness.

Saunf + Kali Mirch

This is a simple blend of two spices that I use in various dishes. Instead of mentioning the spices in every dish, I thought I’d just list the basic combinations in their own posts and refer to them from other blog posts.

I use the fine saunf / aniseed for this one, with fresh, whole peppercorns that I hand pound to the required degree of coarseness. You could try it with the coarser variety of saunf too.


Hot & Spicy Baingan and Paneer

I’m trying to bring together lesser used combinations of main ingredients, such as baingan (aubergine) and paneer (cottage cheese). This is a fairly spicy dish, where it’s more about the complexity of interaction of the different types of chili heat in there than the quantum of chili itself. If you like your alcohol, I suggest a robust red or even better, a nice, strong beer to go with this dish.

If you want, you can also use cook this with chicken, both on and off the bone, though you’ll need to adjust the cooking times accordingly.

The thickness of the gravy comes from the combination of onion, tomato and mushrooms.

Please do try this one with onions and don’t forget to squeeze on a generous drizzle of lime- I thought they added great depth to the dish.

We ate this for dinner with wheat-jowar rotis.


  • Onion, 1 large, sliced
  • Tomatoes, 6 medium, pureed
  • Garlic, 8 cloves, sliced
  • Dhania-Lal Mirch Masala, 2 tbsp
  • Saunf-Kali Mirch Masala, 1 tbsp
  • Mushrooms, 1/2 cup, finely chopped
  • Green chillies, 2, finely chopped
  • Baingan, 150gm, diced
  • Paneer, 100gm, finely diced
  • Cream, 1/4 cup
  • Salt to taste
  • Water as required
  • Oil for frying


  1. Heat oil and saute onions till somewhat brown, lower heat, add green chilies and garlic then saute some more. Add dhania-lal mirch masala and keep sauteing, then the saunf-kali mirch masala and keep sauteing on low heat.
  2. Add the tomato puree and mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes until the oil begins to separate. Add a little water if the gravy is getting too thick.
  3. Blend to smoothness with immersion blender. (Optional)
  4. Mix in the cream, then add baingan and paneer. Mix well, simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Serve with rotis, wedges of lemon and raw onions.

Dhania, Lal Mirch Masala

Hand roasting and pounding your own masalas isn’t just extra aromatic and tasty, but also so very satisfying.

The aroma of fresh spices is awesome.

This is a classic combination, whole coriander seeds and dried red chilies, which are first roasted and then ground. This combination is the starting point for a classic version of kadhai gravy, which unfortunately isn’t very much in use these days.

I use a 50-50 combination of sabat dhania and lal mirch by weight and pound it to the required coarseness depending on what I’m cooking.

Needs a bit more pounding for that days dish.

The point of roasting is to activate certain aromatic compounds as well as to reduce moisture and making both dhania and mirch more brittle, allowing for easier pounding. Roast on a low-medium flame, preferably in a heavy bottomed pan, until your kitchen is full of their aroma, then pound away.

The finished product for that batch.

We use it for making both non-vegetarian and vegetarian preparations, dry and wet.

It took me the longest time to begin appreciating fresh spices, but once I started, there was just no comparison with readymade ones. There’s much I have to learn, and I’m happy to have begun the journey.


Tonkatsu Chicken, Mooli Fried Rice, Egg Salad

We’re trying to adhere to a certain meal protocol on weekdays, with a break on weekends. As per that protocol, there was to be no direct sugar or dairy, and this is what we made.

Each of our bowls had a portion of very crisp Tonkatsu chicken, sliced into pieces, atop some fried rice made with onions and mooli / radish leaves, accompanied by a dollop of creamy egg salad. I forgot to include the Tonkatsu sauce in the picture, which is really a variation of BBQ sauce at our place.

Tonkatsu Chicken

The chicken was made using Panko, flour and seasoned, beaten eggs. Panko refers to Japanese style bread crumbs that are chunkier than normal bread crumbs and result in crisper, coarser outcomes. Take some flour, some beaten eggs seasoned well with salt and pepper and anything else you like, and some panko. Keeping all three in plates is a good idea for easier coating.

I used chicken tenders for this. You could use sliced breast or tenders, whatever is available. Tenders are the pectoralis minor muscles which are located under the breast meat, on both sides of the breastbone.

Heat some oil to medium. Remember to keep the heat at medium as the panko browns really fast. If you’re using breast meat, slice it about 1 – 1.5 centimeters thick and 2 – 2.5 centimeters wide. If you want to use bigger pieces, adjust your oil temperature and cooking time accordingly, as we’d like the pieces to be golden brown when they exit the oil and cooked on the inside as well.

The process is simple. Coat the chicken in the flour first. This ensures a nice, even coating of the egg. Then dip the floured chicken in the egg, then place it atop the panko and coat well, and put it back into egg, then back into the panko, and then into the oil. So that’s flour, egg, panko, egg, panko, fry. Each time you’re out of the egg and panko, drip/shake off the excess egg and crumbs.

Fry for a few minutes on each side until golden brown then remove onto paper kitchen towels. Might be a good idea to slice the first one and confirm its fully cooked so you can confidently do the rest.

Serve with BBQ or Tonkatsu sauce drizzled over.

Mooli Fried Rice

I hate wasting mooli leaves and try to use them in different ways. We also love soy sauce and garlic at home, so that’s what this dish used as well as a dollop of Chua Hah Seng sweet chili paste.

A good soy sauce is a thing of beauty, far removed from the thick, dark crap sold by most Indian brands. We use different soy sauces at home – light, dark and one somewhere in between. Locally brewed ones are the nicest though brands like Kikkoman are delights too. I used Woh Hup Light Soy Sauce for this rice.

For the fried rice, I fried some onions in a little oil, then sliced garlic, then a few finely chopped green chilies, threw in finely chopped radish / mooli greens, added a bit of salt and let the mixture dry out a bit before adding the chili paste and mixing it well. Then came some rice (we cooked the rice a little while earlier, spread it on a plate, cooled it and then broke it up with our fingers), mixed the lot with some soy sauce and the rice was ready.

Egg Salad

For the egg salad, we hard boiled a few eggs, sliced them open and separated the yolks. The whites were chopped coarsely and set aside. The yolks were mashed with a little garlic infused olive oil and when smooth, blended with mustard sauce, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and a bit of milk to make it a little more fluid. A squeeze of lemon goes well, and so does a tablespoon or so of finely chopped raw onions. I also served pickled jalapenos on it, which made for a nice contrast.

And that’s that. This was a satisfying meal that all of us took second helpings for. :)


Kababs with Dilshad

Many years ago, perhaps more than a decade, I found myself standing in front of Jama Masjid in Delhi, at the beginning of Matia Mahal, a food street renowned like no other. It was my first time, and while I knew the legends spoke of streets lined with kebabs of the kind that drove men wild with lust, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer number of vendors.

They were everywhere, masters of the makeshift barbecue, and I had no idea where to begin. Everything smelled and looked so good! And the prices were shockingly low – a meat-eating glutton’s paradise.

But this story is about Dilshad Qureshi’s kababs, then a handsome young boy with incredible skills on the grill. My go-to at the time was Lalu Kababi, from whose wares I never strayed, until one day his stall was closed and in wild-eyed desperation, I chose to try the kababs at Al-Nisar Kababi, Dilshad’s stall.

That was ten years ago and since then I’ve never been elsewhere, choosing not to eat at all if his stall was closed; he’s that good.

Watching Dilshad at work is somewhat mesmerizing.

Vats of spiced meats lie prepared next to him, one minced and the other mostly organ meats. The minced meat he shapes into seekh kebabs on heavy squared seekhs / skewers, while the botis (chunks of organ meats) are skewered, both placed on a shallow metal grilled filled with glowering coals, a portable fan placed at one end, keeping the embers glowing.

A few minutes after being placed, the seekh kababs are given a single turn each, rapidly, one after another in a smooth practiced motion that in itself is a thing of such skill, exposing the next side of the seekh kebab to the hot coal below. When four turns are done, the kebab is done,

The boti kababs on the other hand are cooked in bunches, one side after another, the whole lot placed in one bunch on the grill, a few minutes later gathered up and with one flick of the wrist all of them are flipped over so the other side can cook.

All this while there’s a sauce pan close to the coals literally filled with boiling butter.

When my order is done, usually three or four seekhs of both seekh and boti kababs, they’re slid on to melamine plates, topped with finely sliced onions, drizzled with chili-hot, piquant green chutney and then comes the cascade of golden butter poured liberally over the whole lot, finished with a bunch of thin rumali rotis grabbed from a plastic bag hanging close by, and handed over.

Now imagine the chap doing different parts of this process simultaneously for different orders, while also yelling for his staff to gather used plates, collect money from patrons – such busy.

Most of us aren’t likely to have eaten kababs sizzling hot, right off the grill. Watching the meat, fat and spice bubbling and sizzling inches away from hot coals, slow browning and developing that crisp, crusty exterior that is all but gone by the time kababs reach us from restaurant kitchens. I’m especially fond of the fatty bits of meat with globules of boiling fat visible. If I can get away with it, I’ll slyly point out those skewers with the most fat and Dilshad usually gives in to my enthusiasm.

And then comes the eating. Tearing off bits of the rumali roti, we’ll grab chunks of seekh or boti kebabs, then plenty of onions, the lot swirled around in that heavenly mixture of chutney and butter, before being quaffed and chewed, liberally delimited with sighs and hyperventilation and smiles of satisfaction, sometimes with closed eyes and murmurs of contentment.

I found the photo above while clearing out my Dropbox, and thought I’d share. :)


Vegetable and Corn Frittata

We strive towards low carb lunches that are quick and easy to prepare, and yet meet some level of nutritional content. These frittatas meet those requirements and taste great too. Here’s the recipe I used, for a single dish lunch for 6 people, cooked in a 10.5 inch cast iron pan.


  • Eggs, 14, beaten
  • Bell peppers, 1 medium, chopped
  • Onion, 1 medium, chopped
  • Green chilies, 2, finely chopped
  • Carrots, 1 large, finely chopped
  • Corn, 3/4 cup, boiled with a pinch of sugar
  • Coriander leaves and stems, handful, chopped
  • Salami, 6 slices, diced
  • Tomato, 1 medium, diced
  • Salt, pepper to taste
  • Oil for frying


  1. Heat oil, fry onions and green chilies until onions are translucent.
  2. Add the rest of the vegetables and cook till the bell peppers are soft.
  3. Reduce heat. Add the beaten eggs, stir to mix the vegetables with the eggs, then cover and cook for 10 – 12 minutes.
  4. Take off the heat and pop into a medium-hot oven until cooked through. Test by inserting a knife. If the knife comes out clean, it’s cooked.
  5. Overturn on to a plate an serve hot.


  • Top with cheese if you like, and put back under a grill for a bit to melt the cheese.
  • Experiment with different vegetables. Keep in mind mushrooms will release plenty of liquid.
  • Add flavors in the form of basil leaves, ginger, garlic, curry leaves and more.
  • Sometimes, I like pouring on a tadka of hot oil, spluttered mustard seeds, ginger, kadi patta and a little urad dal.


Cinnamon Spiral

I’ve been cooking up little things for Indu’s birthday week and this was the first. I make all my bread and related stuff using the same bread recipe, which is fermented overnight or between 8 to 12 hours. It gives a very tasty, crusty outcome that all of us love.

This cinnamon spiral was crusty on the outside and soft, sweet and buttery and layered on the inside. We didn’t do the typical glaze and liked it just as much without it.

I don’t have specifics for this recipe, though here’s what I did. I’ve kind of rigged my oven to be hotter than it was designed for, and so don’t have temperature specifics. One of these days I’ll pick up an oven thermometer and re-do the thermostat markings.


  • Fermented bread dough – do a single batch, 2/3 of it should be just right for one big cinnamon spiral, or adjust.
  • 1/2 cup castor sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon powder
  • Melted butter


  1. Roll out the dough into a rectangle that’s about 12 inches wide, 6 inches high and about 1/4 of an inch thick. You may need to add a little extra flour as the fermented mixture can be quite loose and sticky.
  2. Leaving about half an inch at the bottom, brush the rest with melted butter.
  3. Mix the sugars and cinnamon powder and sprinkle over the butter
  4. Starting from the top gently, but tightly roll the sheet into a log, sealing the unbuttered end with a little water. Then turn this into a spiral. Brush melted butter over the top and sprinkle more of the sugar-cinnamon mixture over.
  5. Place on to a buttered pan and allow it to rise until about doubled in size.
  6. Bake as you would bread.