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12 achaars so good, you’d be in a pickle if you had to pick one

12 achaars so good, you’d be in a pickle if you had to pick one
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From Jammu and Kashmir to Sikkim - the very best India has to offer.

Pickling is not only a grand affair inside, but also synonymous with the Indian kitchen. Historically, pickles are as old as 4,000 years in India, when they were used to preserve and increase the shelf life of fresh produce. Seasonal offerings would be cured with salt or sugar, immersed in brine, and then left out to ferment. It is believed that the first vegetable to be pickled was a cucumber. Native to India, it grows in the foothills of the Himalayas. In her excellent piece about the tradition of pickle-making in India, Vidhya Balachander, a published food and travel journalist writes, “no matter what gulfs might separate the culinary customs of the country, pickle acts as a bridge between them”. From the sweet, velvety chhunda of Gujarat, pork and bamboo shoot pickle from Arunachal Pradesh and lingri (fiddlehead fern) ka achaar in Himachal Pradesh to the maahali oorugai in Tamil Nadu, India’s pickles are as diverse and far-reaching as her languages.

Here are 12 of our regional favourites from the length and breadth of the country.

North

Kala nimbu ka achaar, Punjab

Kala nimbu ka achaar is a sweet, tangy, and spicy pickle prepared from the greener and juicier kaagji/kaagzi lemons found in Punjab and Rajasthan predominantly. The zero-oil pickle is aged for several years and it comes with carom seeds and black pepper, which gives it a dense black colour. Store it in a spot with ample sunlight to prevent it from getting spoilt.

Amla ki launji, Uttar Pradesh

Amla (Indian gooseberry) ki launji (pickle) is a rather nutritious pickle prevalent in the remote regions of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. The innately tangy and sour taste of amla is balanced with jaggery and spices like fennel seeds, black pepper, ginger and turmeric are added to it. Unlike many other pickles, this concoction has to be cooked briefly and has the shelf life of only 15 to 20 days. It is best enjoyed with a plate of curd rice or paratha.

Kamal kakdi ka achaar, Jammu and Kashmir

Kamal kakdi translates to lotus stem which is extensively used in Sindhi, Punjabi and Kashmiri cuisines. Lotus stems are pickled with spices, such as fennel and nigella seeds, dry Kashmiri red chillies and coriander seeds.

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West

Prawn balchao, Goa

The prawn balchao from Goa treads the fine line between being a spicy gravy and a succulent pickle. Balchao also refers to the method of cooking fish or prawns in a spicy, dark red sauce. There are quite a few ways of making balchao.. Catholic homes, for instance, use coconut vinegar, while cane vinegar is used to achieve milder flavours. Distilled vinegar and malt vinegar are common substitutes. When prepared and stored with least moisture, balchao paste can last up to three months.

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Chana methi nu athanu, Gujarat

This achaar, prevalent in many parts of Gujarat, calls for a cumbersome process involving the soaking of chana (white chickpeas or the desi black chana) and methi dana (fenugreek seeds) in salt and turmeric water for two days, which are then left to dry. Once done, it’s bottled with mustard oil and spices. A popular variation includes raw mango. Theplas or bhakri pair well with chana methi nu athanu.

Ker ka achaar, Rajasthan

Ker is a berry exclusive to the dry and arid lands of Rajasthan. It is typically sour and hence an ideal base for pickles. The berries are soaked in salt water and then, dried using a muslin cloth. Spices like asafoetida, cumin, fennel, and fenugreek seeds are added along with mustard oil. It is best enjoyed with bajra no rotlo, khakhra, or a poori. The shelf life of this achaar is 1-2 years.

East

Topa kuler achaar, West Bengal

A Bengali staple, topa kuler achaar is made with berries indigenous to West Bengal and is flavoured with jaggery, the Bengali spice blend, panch-phoron, fenugreek, nigella, fennel, cumin and black mustard seeds. It is best enjoyed with curries, doodh-bhat (milk rice) or traditional panta bhat. The shelf life of this pickle is 2 years

Akhuni pickle, Nagaland

Akhuni or axone is fermented soya bean, which has a sharp, pungent, and smoky profile. The Sema tribe of Nagaland are known for their excellent akhuni, which calls for the use of hyper-local ingredients like the Naga ginger, raja mircha, and mejenga seeds. It is used both in pickles and meat, and often served with pork curries and rice.

Mesu, Sikkim

In the Limbu dialect of Sikkim, “me” means young bamboo shoot and “su” translates to sour. Mesu pickle is a combination of bamboo shoot, crushed garlic, red chilli powder, mustard oil and salt fermented for seven to 15 days. A popular condiment in Sikkimese cuisine, mesu is well served with dal and rice or chapatis and lasts up to10 months.

South

Sundakkai oorugai, Tamil Nadu

Sundakkai oorugai is a rare berry, better known as turkey berry pickle, native to Tamil Nadu. It has medicinal properties and is extremely bitter, making washing and de-seeding essential steps. This pickle is flavoured with red chilli powder, asafoetida, mustard seeds, fenugreek and salt and tamarind water (optional). It is best to eat it after two to three days of refrigeration and with a plateful of curd rice.

Chemmeen achaar - Kerala

Chemmeen translates to prawns in Malayalam and the special Kerala-style prawn pickle is extremely popular down south. Parallels can be drawn between the Goan prawn balchao and the Kerala-style chemmeen, where prawns marinated in spices are cooked and then pickled. With a shelf life of eight to10 months, this one packs a punch and is best served with curd rice.

Chintakaya pachadi- Andhra Pradesh

The usage of raw tamarind is quite significant in Andhra and Telangana cuisine so it is only natural that they have a pickle with raw tamarind. Chintakaya pachadi is made with lightly fried tamarind, dry red chilli and spices. High on dietary fibres, this unique pickle is tempered with curry leaves and served with hot rice and ghee.

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Our favourite homegrown pickle brands from India

Native tongue: Tuck into handcrafted preserves made locally sourced and all-natural condiments in quirky flavours like Alu Bukhara and strawberry with Kerala vanilla. Order here: https://nativetongue.in/

Maa’s pickles: With a range of chutneys and pickles, this mother-daughter duo from Uttarakhand is on a mission to put homemade Indian pickles on the global map, with familiar flavours like khatta meetha amla, pyaaz ka achaar, and teekhi lehsun ki chutney. Order here: https://bit.ly/2NrhXtG

The Little Farm: The Little Farm is your one-stop-shop if you are in the mood for some simple and wholesome Indian pickles like, green chilli, lemon, or mango. Order here: https://thelittlefarm.co.in/

Bloom Foods: From handpicking the spices and locally sourcing the meat, to using zero preservatives, a jar of their non-vegetarian pickle is all you need on your kitchen shelf today! Order here: https://bloomfoods.co.in/

Pickle-Shickle: Theatre kids turned pickle connoisseurs, the sisters behind Pickle Shickle have curated an array of intriguing veg and non-vegetarian pickles in unique flavours, living up to their motto of “meat and off-beat veg pickles.” Order here: https://www.pickleshickle.com/

Manal Doshi

Manal Doshi

Manal is a gregarious and ambitious girl who talks about bread incessantly. Her penchant for writing and aesthetics transcends into everything she does. She loves researching the culture and history of things. When she's not writing, you can find her working on a dozen unfinished projects, and consuming an unhealthy amount of art.

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