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Finger-Licking Good: Must-Try Pickles From Around India

Mar 31, 2018 | 8 Mins

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Summer is here and in many Indian homes that means it’s pickle season. Mothers and grandmothers take to terraces and balconies to peel, cut and dry out pieces of mango, lemon, shrimp and dozens of other eatables for their annual achaar-making sessions. They spend hours grinding fresh masalas and rubbing the spices into these pieces before drowning them in oil and stocking them in giant jars for the rest of the year. Given India’s diverse culinary history, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that different communities have different ways of making their pickles. Some ferment ingredients to use over long periods of time, while others make small batches of fresh pickles that only last a few weeks. Here are just some of the wonderful pickles that add flavours to Indian dishes (and that you can enjoy when you sign up for an meal!).


Parsi Lagan nu Achaar

As the name suggests, this sweet and spicy pickle is often served at Parsi weddings and navjots. But the pickle is also found in many Parsi kitchens and served at all meals, including those served by home chef Rashna Maneckshaw, who said the actual name of mix is gajar mewa nu achaar. She explained that the pickle—made of grated carrots, dry fruits like apricots, dates and anjeer, jaggery and red chilli powder—is best enjoyed with a specific kind of wafer called sariya, among the first items served at a Parsi function. At home, it can be had with theplas and parathas.

Sign up for Rashna’s meals here to try the lagan nu achaar.


Assamese Pickles made of Black Sesame, Chickpea, Radish and Banana Flower.

The first thing one might think of when someone mentions Assamese food is bamboo shoot pickle, one of the state’s most popular items. But Joyee Mahanta and Priyangi Borthakur are out to showcase the state’s lesser-known delights and are using their mothers’ and grandmothers’ recipes to do so. As part of their meals, the duo serve four types of pickles: black sesame, chickpea, radish and banana flower. Unlike many other types of pickles, Joyee said, these preparations are low on masala. Each ingredient is first roasted to remove the excess water and then soaked in jars of mustard oil with green chillies and garam masala. The jars are left in the sun for a few weeks before the pickles are ready to serve and keep for about six months. A simple dal and rice are the best accompaniments to highlight the flavour of the pickles.

Sign up for Joyee’s and Priyangi’s meals here to try their Assamese pickles.


East Indian Wedding Pickle and Balchao Pickle

Another pickle that gets its name from the occasion it is served at is the East Indian Wedding Pickle. This fresh preparation uses almost no oil and is drier than other pickles. Regina Pereira said the basic ingredients are raw papaya, carrots, capsicum, chillies, dried dates, fresh turmeric powder, vinegar and salt. The pickle is good for about two weeks (which is usually how long weddings celebrations go on for) and can be used to add some zing to vindaloo, sorpotel or fish curry.

 The complete opposite is Regina’s Balchao Pickle which uses copious amounts of oil and tiny shrimp (“They’re so small you can’t even see them move…smaller than ants,” she said) that are caught fresh in April and May. These are salted and dried before being mixed with Kashmiri chilli powder and a ginger garlic paste and soaked in oil. Unlike the Wedding Pickle, this one can be enjoyed for months.

Sign up for Regina’s meals here to try her East Indian pickles.


Pathare Prabhu Prawn Pickle

The Pathare Prabhu community is well-known for their lip-smacking seafood preparations. One of the stars is the prawn pickle or the kolambiche metkutache bhujane, as Geeta Dhairyawan said. This spicy and sour mix of white prawns is easy to make and elevates any meal. There’s no fermentation here, just a quick marination of white prawns in a mixture of garlic, salt, haldi and chilli powder before being fried in some oil flavoured with methi and hing. Once it’s cooled, a little lemon juice is squeezed on top. Geeta recommends having it with varan bhaat, or plain boiled dal and rice. The prawns can be replaced with bombil or shrimp and a veggie version uses potatoes.

Sign up for Geeta’s meals here to try her prawn pickle.


Goan Saraswat Mackerel Pickle

Goan Saraswats are famous for the many ways that they incorporate seafood into their cuisine. Case in point the mackerel pickle, a tangy, oily preparation that celebrates the flavours of mustard seeds, mackerel and tamarind pulp. Sandhya Pai Vernekar said this last-minute pickle is found in many Saraswat homes, with fresh batches being prepared all the time since this pickle lasts only four to six days if refrigerated. Like the Pathare Prabhu prawn pickle, this mackerel mix is best had with dal and rice.

Sign up for Sandhya’s meals here to try her mackerel pickle.


Andhra Mango Pickles

For many Andhra homes, summer is synonymous with mangoes and pickling. Sumitra Kalapatapu said that certain types of mangoes are used for specific pickles. In fact, even batches of the famous Guntur chilli powder are produced exclusively for pickle-making. One mango variety is used to prepare avakkai which can be sweet (with a base of jaggery syrup) or savoury (with a mix of garlic and red chilli powder). The oily concoction can be found in most pantries and is had with rice. Another mango pickle called magai is made of peeled, sliced and dried mango that are sprinkled with methi, red chilli powder and a little oil. These pickles can last up to five years, getting more flavourful the longer they sit.

Sign up for Sumitra’s meals here to try her Andhra mango pickles.


Kashmiri Kohlrabi and Lotus Stem Pickles

Usha Nehru’s Kashmiri pickles usually don’t last beyond a few months because they are invariably gobbled up by her family and friends during meals. Usha uses a traditional blend of masalas to pickle lotus stem and kohlrabi. Her mix of salt, red chillies, ginger powder, hing and ground rye adds a bit of a kick to these achaars that are eaten with pretty much anything. They’re easy to make but, Usha said, the key is to ensure the lotus stem and kohlrabi are dried properly before mixing in the spices.

Sign up for Usha’s Kashmiri meals here to try her pickles.


Kamakshi Ayyar

I am a freelance journalist based in Mumbai, India and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Through a process of trial and error, my time at law school made me realise that journalism was probably a better fit for me.

  • pickles

  • assamese

  • east indian

  • pathare prabhu

  • goan saraswat

  • kashmiri pandit

  • andhra

  • parsi

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