I have vivid memories of summer afternoons when Maa would finish her chores and line up pickle bottles out in the backyard. We were lucky to have a spacious bungalow, complete with mango trees in the garden.
Every summer, Maa would make Aamer Jhaal Achar, a spicy mango pickle for Baba, and Mishti Achar, a sweeter version of the same for Dada and me enough to last a year.
Many summers have come and gone since those long, hot afternoons. I left home for studies, moved three cities and got married. It’s been years since I tasted Maa’s Mishti Achar, but its memory, like a well-made pickle, remains fresh on the tongue.
A week ago when my mother-in-law came to me with raw mangoes, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them. A traditional Maharashtrian woman and an exceptional cook (can serve up a delicious mutton feast for a few dozen guests with 2 hrs of notice!), Aai passed on her trademark tangy Kairicha Loncha, a tangy raw mango pickle recipe. A routine call to Maa later that night landed me some tips, and just the push I needed.
Drying of the mangoes in the sun is a crucial process
For a working woman in Mumbai, who has just enough time to cook two meals, carving time to make pickles the traditional way can be challenging. You’d need to dry the raw mangoes in the sun, and then prepare the achar masala from scratch. But, tempted by nostalgia, I gave this a go using some shortcuts though.
Thanks to ready-made masalas, it’s a lot easier to make pickles today than it was earlier. If you are in Mumbai, get your hands on Bedekar’s or Apna Bazaar's brand of achar masalas—these come recommended by old-timers who know their pickles.
When buying raw mangoes, most vendors will happily dice them for a nominal price, so use the opportunity to save some time and effort in the kitchen.
Next, spread the mango chunks (after applying salt and turmeric) over a newspaper or paper towels and leave them to dry in the sun for a few hours. The step is important as it dehydrates the mangoes and helps the final product give it a longer shelf life.
Even if your home doesn’t have a balcony, find a corner that receives a few hours of sun during the day.
Once the chunks are dry*, they are ready to be coated with the masalas. Temper some oil with heeng, mustard and fenugreek seeds. Bengalis prefer mustard oil for tempering their pickles. Though I rarely use shorsher tel in my day-to-day cooking, I always have a small bottle tucked away in my kitchen shelve.
Once the tempering is ready, throw in the mango chunks along with the achar masala and voila… your mango pickle is ready! Store it in air-tight jars and leave it in the sun for another two to three days so that the mangoes absorb the spices.
5 tips for making mango pickle
1. Do not leave the mangoes in a closed room as it could lead to fungal growth.
2. To check if the mangoes are *dry, rub your fingers over them. If it leaves any moisture, it needs some more time out in the sun.
3. Make sure the jar in which you are storing the pickle is properly cleaned and dried.
4. If you are dicing the mangoes at home with a knife, be wary of the area near the seed, as it is tough in nature.
5. Allow the tempering to cool down completely before you add it to the spice mix and mangoes.
Recipe for my Mango Pickle (makes 1 bottle)
1 large-sized raw mango
1/2 packet (approx 50 gms) of ready-made achar masala
3/4 cup mustard oil
1 tsp each of mustard & fenugreek seeds
2 tsp heeng
3 tsp salt
1. Clean, dice the mango and leave it to dry on a paper towel. Change it once you find the towel moist.
2. In a small kadhai, temper the mustard and fenugreek seeds along with the heeng in mustard oil. Keep it aside.
3. Add the achar masala, salt and the tempering to the mangoes. Use your hands to coat everything properly.
4. Transfer the pickle into a jar. Make sure there is excess oil floating on the top.