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.

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. :)

Basics Featured

#1 Heat: Your Friend and Foe

This is a part of the Basics series, intended to help novice cooks with what I consider to be the building blocks of food and cooking. It would be nice if you started from the top and worked your way to the bottom.

This started with trying to help novice cooks in my Facebook group, Chef at Large and I thought of copying the same content here too.

Your best friend and worst enemy while cooking, is usually heat. Too little and your food is raw, too much and it’s burnt. Other unwanted effects include being cooked just right on the outside and raw/chilled on the inside.

Heat also removes harmful bacteria from food, may increase or reduce nutritional elements within different foods and so on.

Understanding how heat works, how it’s conducted and how it effects different foods is one of the keys to making your time in the kitchen a little easier and more productive.

There are three types of heat transfer:

  • Conduction: via direct
  • Convection: via a medium like air or
  • Radiation: via direct heat/MW waves from a source

I’m not a trainer in this subject, and might skip steps that are important for a structured lesson. If you think I’m doing so, please ask for more details.

These methods of heat transfer translate into different types of cooking techniques, such as grilling, roasting, boiling, stewing etc. Even within the context of a pot, one can have different methods such as stewing, braising, jugging, boiling etc.

At the end of the day, you’ll find it’s all about the heat and how it’s transferred, using what medium and for how long.

The easiest way to understand heat better, is eggs. I’m sorry, but I don’t know of any vegetarian food that behaves in the same manner.

Eggs can be cooked with many different kinds of heat and heat transmission, and they’re so sensitive to heat that they become the ideal foods to begin with, and end with.

Why do I say ‘end with’? Because trained chefs also need quite a bit of practice before they’re able to master eggs. If I were to use one ingredient to test how good a cook is, that would be eggs.

Would you like to try answering these? Your answers will help others.

  • How many ways do you think eggs can be cooked
  • How many types of heat conduction have you used in your
  • Can you share a method of cooking that doesn’t use heat? (excluding salads and fruit)
  • What do you think happens when we introduce too much heat too fast?

Mooli Memories

Every now and then I change the cover image of the Chef at Large group and write a small description – usually whatever immediately comes to mind. Here’s what I wrote earlier this morning. Do visit this post to see what others shared about their trysts with mooli. Some are quite interesting and our culinary cultural diversity continues to amaze me.

My earliest and fondest memories of radish / mooli is from the redi / cart outside school where this chap would have a stack of mooli on one side and a big jar of green chutney. During break or at the end of school, he’d peel them, cut them in half lengthwise, and smear a spoonful of that piquant, spicy and delicious chutney on the flat side with a spoon. We’d buy it for, maybe 50p.

That first bite of mooli would be a shock to the senses, usually somewhat cold, the flavours of the chutney shocking the palate, and God help us if the mooli was ‘strong’, sending a shock up the nostrils, sometimes leaving us gasping for breath. Every so often today, I break my fasts with a platter full of mooli and a katori of chutney. Quite a few nutrients in there, plus one of the few dishes in my list that are from childhood, low carb and satisfying too.

Then there are parathas stuffed with shredded / kaddu-kassed mooli, drenched in white butter, again with some dahi and green chutney on the side. Indu makes these parathas as two separate rotis with the stuffing in between. One side will first be lifted up causing a pillow of hot steam to escape, exposing the shreds of white mooli, speckled with red chili and dotted with bright green coriander. while butter is diligently applied all over the paratha while it cools down a bit. We rarely eat stuffed parathas these days, so each such occasion is a memorable indulgence.


The Role of a Chef Outside the Kitchen

I was asked to be part of a discussion panel at IICA’s graduation day about a month ago, and the title of this post was the topic of discussion. Here’s what my perspective was.

Food Production

Imparting knowledge of food production in a cost effective manner, to maximise both quantity and quality of output to organisations such as those involved in social welfare and reform, thus helping them make the most of usually scarce resources. Quite a few people know how to cook. You however, are training in the production of food. Your skills when applied to such situations could make all the difference to quite a few children for example, who may not otherwise have been affordable to that organisation.

Just as we have ‘Doctors without Borders’, we can also have ‘Chefs without Borders’; chefs travelling the world to regions affected by all manner of calamity, using their knowledge and skills to optimise available resources and create food production capabilities for those effected.

With an addition skill – a basic knowledge of nutrition, properties of different nutrients such as sensitivity to heat, cooking techniques for maximum retention of various nutrients, and the nutrition content of different foods, the food production systems you design in the above two scenarios would become nutrition delivery systems, making your work and role even more valuable.

We live in busy times, with barely any time for ourselves and our families and it is usually our bodies that suffer due to misinformation or lack of knowledge about food and nutrition. Armed with knowledge of both, food production and nutrition, a chef is also ideally placed to teach the principles of both, food production and nutrition to the masses, giving them a fresh lease on life, avoiding the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease we’re looking at, as a species, worldwide.

During times of economic crisis, when not only are prices of essential kitchen commodities high, but there’s also a cash crunch in most households, a chef can help the general populace cope by teaching techniques that allow a home cook to not only cook with a minimum of the basics, such as onions, but also how to stretch a rupee to the max, from a food quality and quantity point of view. At a time when families may not be able to afford to eat out, but still crave restaurant style food, your knowledge will go a long way in keeping families happier than they otherwise would, having found comfort in foods of their choice as well as having saved a few rupees.

Cultural Preservation

The preservation of the cultural aspects of food can be done in two ways primarily – via academia through theoretical conservation and via the population through practice and exposure. Chefs can play a key role in the preservation of such historical knowledge by first acquiring this knowledge and then exposing it via the establishments they’re associated with, not just via time limited promotions, but as full blown menus, with the kitchens too adapted to historical styles of cooking.

One might say this isn’t really stepping out of the kitchen. I would argue that the outcome of such an effort, when carried out in a sustained and consistent manner would result in greater cultural security of the people, resulting in lesser inter community strife given the comfort one gains from knowing one’s culture and history is safe, in addition to the numerous benefits gained from historical knowledge, which is being re-discovered by modern medical and nutritional science. In effect, this would enhance and retain the mental and corporeal health of our population in addition to keeping our multi-cultural society healthy, vibrant and happy as a whole. That, certainly is outside the kitchen.

Recipes Travel Trending

Choriz, Anda, Bread

The family and I were in Goa a couple of weeks ago and during this time, I was constantly trolled by a friend, because I wasn’t eating a dish called Choriz Poee, basically spicy Goan sausages / chorizo with a local bread called poee. In my defence, not a single restaurant served the stuff!

Poee have pockets and are dusted with wheat bran. These above were served with chilli fried pork that Cherie ate one afternoon for lunch.

On our way to the airport for the return flight home, I found a shop selling locally made rosary sausages, which are so much nicer than those in packets. Ranging in price from INR 2.50 to INR 25 per link, the fillings in these include pork skin, fat and meat, depending on the price. We also stopped by a small bakery, trying to find some pav, and found these two cats with gorgeous eyes and permanently fluffy tails. We didn’t find any pav though. A storm had caused power issues, and that prevented them from kneading and baking. Woe is me.

Both pals had really fluffy tails and lovely eyes. You can see the leaves and branches among a great deal of destruction elsewhere, due to the storm. We were lucky our flight was only delayed by an hour or so.

Once home, fearing more merciless poking by said friend, an Andhra boy BTW, we quickly cooked them.

We bought three types of these rosary sausages/choriz. What you see is about two hundred rupees worth and was enough for our dinner plus leftovers.
  • Boiled the lot
  • Removed the meat from the casings.
  • Boiled the casings in the residual water to get every bit of fat and spice in there.
  • Reduced the residual water
  • Fried onions separately
  • Added all the sausage filling plus some potatoes to the reduced residual water. Then added the onions fried separately.
The vinegary taste reduced a bit due to boiling, and I was thankful for that. It’s the one thing I don’t like about Goan choriz. The rest of the flavours were retained and so was all the water used for boiling the stuff.

The poee I made wasn’t really poee. More like leavened (yeast), thick, whole wheat phulkas. Made it on the gas and puffed them on the naked flame. All they had in common with poees, were the pockets.

Choriz, Anda, Bread. Poor plating, I know. But we were hungry!

The lot was then put on a plate along with a chopped up omelette, sent photo to abovementioned troll/friend. Phew. :D


Five Foods for Divine Consumption

Hinduism and related works are a veritable treasure trove of information on many aspects of our existence, including life, death, food, medicine, the physical, metaphysical and more.

The following pointers come from Anushasana Parva, which is book #13 of 18 that comprise the entire Mahabharatha. Known as the “Book of Instructions” or “Book of Precepts”, this book discusses the duties of a ruler among other related aspects. [2] The version I have with me is a translation by Pratap Chandra Roy (1842 – 1895) [3], and book XI of the series.

As per this sub-section of the undeniably epic Mahabharatha, the following five foods must never be cooked for oneself, but always offered to the deities. [1]

  1. Samyava
  2. Krisara
  3. Meat
  4. Sashkuli
  5. Payasa

Samyava is described as following by different sources as being

  1. Patties made of wheat flour, mixed with milk, and fried in ghee. [5]
  2. A thin cake of unleavened bread, fried with ghee, pounded and again made up into an oblong form with fresh bread, sugar and spices, and again fried with ghee [2]

Two, slightly more elaborate explanation, almost recipes, are as follows [4]:

Refined wheat flour, fried with ghee, then mixed with sugar and marica followed by infusion with the powders of ela, lavanga and karpura, stored in a crucible of kneaded, refined wheat flour and again fried in ghee. Finally this fried food should be soaked in sugar syrup, at which point it is called Samyava.

Refined wheat flour, kneaded with honey and milk, fried in ghee, soaked in sugar syrup, sprinkled over with powders of marica, ela, subhra and karpura. This is called Samyava, which is like ambrosia.

Krisara, described in the book as a “liquid food made of milk, sesame, rice, sugar and spices” [1], sounding quite like what we know as kheer, though in the context of Ayurveda, it’s also described as a “thick paste gruel” [6].

Meat, here I assume refers to any fish, meat or poultry dish.

Sashkuly, is described in the Srimad Bhagwatam as a large, ear-shaped cake made of rice flour, sugar and sesame, and fried in ghee [7] and as “a kind of pie” in the Mahabharatha [1].

Finally, Payasa, apparently the simplest of the lot, appears to be the closest to a simple kheer, being “rice boiled in sugar and milk.

My Interpretation

We live in an age of self-indulgence, plying ourselves with all manner of treats and indulgences, both culinary and otherwise sensory. My constant takeaway with all manner of ancient books is the depth to which the authors were acquainted with the human psyche, which doesn’t appear to have changed very much in the last few thousand years.

Given our propensity towards self destruction through self indulgence, and the authors’ certainty of that probability, I believe the purpose of these foods being accorded special status was to keep them away from regular use by regular people, thus keeping said people healthier through a religious system of regulated self-denial.

In the case of meat, especially with the same book saying that “One should never eat the flesh of animals not slain in sacrifices” [1], I believe the intent was to promote conservation in addition to moderation.

What do you think?


  1. The Mahabharatha in 12 Volumes
  2. Anushasana Parva
  3. Kisari Mohan Ganguli and Pratap Chandra Roy
  4. Materia Medica of Ayurveda: Based on: Madanapala’s Nighantu By Vaidya Bhagwan Dash
  5. Student Britannica India
  6. Role of Pathya Aahara Kalpana (Diet) In Maintenance of Healthy Lifestyle
  7. ?B 11.27.34

The Top 10 Foods We Stress Eat

A couple of days ago, I asked folks on Chef at Large what they ate when emotionally stressed. That post received over 750 responses of all sorts, though a pattern was more or less apparent on going through the responses.

Our stress eating usually based on childhood conditioning and remnants of our evolutionary past. Childhood conditioning is usually about repeating patterns inculcated during our childhoods, when we were given foods to placate our childhood selves, and we continue eating the same foods when stressed, as adults. Evolutionary remnants are about our heading for sweet, salty or fatty foods, behaviour that used to be a part of our survival instincts aeons ago, and still survives within us.

Interestingly, the second most quoted response was ‘Nothing’, which was quite nice to see, as in some of us beating the urge (or not experiencing it at all) to stuff ourselves when upset, which is always a nice thing to see.

The Bottom Five

10 Butter – At the very bottom, we have butter, a food this country loves and reveres. Thankfully, in this context, it wasn’t as a food, but as part of a dish. This includes butter chicken, peanut butter, toast and butter and aloo ka paratha with butter among others.

Butter is closely followed by:

  • Pizza
  • Cheese
  • Chicken and
  • Cake

The Next Three

The usual instinct I’ve seen is to eat something, but quite a few folks prefer drinking (#4) something after an argument or other stress inducing activity. It could be a hot drink, such as tea (#3) or coffee (#5), or it could be alcoholic. Regardless, drinking as opposed to eating definitely seems to be a preference amongst a significant number of us.

The Top Two!

The second most popular refuge for the emotional eaters amongst us is… you’re right, ice cream! This could also be a social outcome of the dozens of movies where a tub of ice cream is shown as the ideal refuge for a bad mood.

The #1 food eaten in an emotional state is, and you’re right again, chocolate! But then, you already knew that, yes?

So, that’s the list. If any of you are curious about the original comments that led me to this conclusion, here it is. What’s your stress-eating go-to? Leave a comment, okay?

If you’re facing a weight problem that stress eating is partially responsible for, click here.


Awesome Korean Food in Greater NOIDA

Greater NOIDA has this very mixed bunch of residents, of which Koreans constitute a small part. A few restaurants have sprung up in the area to cater to their culinary needs, such as Shimter restaurant.

Located in Ansal’s Golf Link 1 in Greater NOIDA, Shimter exists in a three story residential house. Staffed by Koreans and folks from north Eastern India, service is friendly, prompt and informed, though language can be a bit of a barrier.

Indu, Cherie and I were shown to a bare room, with a table seating four and an attached bathroom – as private as it gets, and since the walls are solid brick, being a bit loud is fine too.

As with every Korean meal, a complimentary variety of little dishes, collectively called Banchan, are placed on the table. These are refilled without added cost and usually quite tasty and a nice way to start the evening without ordering additional snacks.

We ordered one of my favourites, Budae Jigae, a Korean dish with a history, which I’m sure you’ll find quite interesting. The recipe varies from cook to cook and restaurant to restaurant, though the elements remain quite similar. This one contained chicken, smoked pork sausages, sliced pork spam, noodles, kimchi, spring onions, sliced tofu and vegetables, the lot immersed in a spicy broth. It was placed in a large pan on our table, atop a portable stove, and the noodles cooked in front of us. Each of us was also served with a portion of hot, steaming sticky rice.

We also asked for a large portion of fried chicken, which even though an ordinary dish otherwise, was quite a bit more delicious than other versions I’ve tasted. These were accompanied by beer and Soju.

If you’re in Greater NOIDA, where there is a severe dearth of quality restaurants, Shimter is a great option.