If ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise are essential condiments to an American meal, a regular feature on the Indian dining table is the quintessential achaar or pickled foods. With as many variations as there are communities in the subcontinent, each pocket of the country boasts its own variety of achaar, local vegetables pickled in tantalising flavours and bottled in jars to be savoured over months and long distances.
While achaar is an Indian culinary tradition that goes back centuries, the new food trend-following generation believes achaar is unhealthy. Right at the start of our conversation, Prabha Aunty clears the air and says, "Pickling is a mere food preservation technique." Earning a bad reputation for its high salt and oil content, she explains, "To preserve food items for a long duration, you need to add a large amount of salt or oil. Besides, pickle is only eaten as a condiment & in small quantities."
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Legacy of Pickles
Almost every Indian family has a pickle tradition to boast of about. For many of us, summers meant watching our mothers and grandmothers prep for the pickling season. But, to make an Amla pickle, you don't really have to wait for summer. Winters are perfect as the Amlas are in season. It all starts with cutting and chopping large quantities of produce, drying them on terraces followed by marination and pickling.
Every household has its own signature pickle recipe and achaar-making technique which generations have grown up relishing. "I grew up watching my grandmother make pickles and I learnt to make this Amla pickle recipe from my mother," says Prabha Aunty, who has been making not just amla (or gooseberry) pickles but many other types for 15 years. "My mother never made pickles but taught me how to make them" she adds, laughingly.
Raw mango pickle and jackfruit pickle are the other pickles that are commonly devoured in a typical Mangalorean household, informs Prabha Aunty. "My family moved to Mumbai a long time ago so we don't eat jackfruit as much here but back home, it's a common feature of our daily meals."
Not a huge pickle fan herself, Prabha Aunty enjoys making pickles for her loved ones. "Even while growing up, I did not eat pickles that much but because my father was a huge fan of pickles, we always had some pickle in our house. Now, my husband is very fond of amla pickle so I have to keep replenishing the stock every time the jar is wiped clean."
Pickles are not just for the eaters but the makers too. For many, the process of pickling is a therapeutic hobby in itself. "I like to make the pickles as soon I see the earlier stock nearing the bottom of the jar," confesses Prabha Aunty. It's not just amla pickle that's popular in her home, every pickle has its own taker. "My children are fond of chilli pickle so I'm regularly refilling those jars as well."
When we asked Prabha Aunty why she chose the amla pickle recipe to represent Karnataka, she tells us, "This pickle is found in households across Karnataka and is a part of almost every meal."
But it's not just that, the amla pickle recipe is one that's regularly made in Prabha Aunty's home from scratch. "We belong to a community called Goud Saraswat Brahmins from Mangalore so this pickle is not that easily available in the market. And somehow, even if you do manage to get your hands on it, it won't have the authentic taste," she informs. "The amla pickle recipe I am making on the show is special because in this pickle recipe, I roast the amlas with a mix of spices till they are dark brown. I use lesser oil compared to other pickles and instead of sugar, I use jaggery."
Defying Unhealthy Notions
Prabha Aunty has another significant reason for picking the amla pickle recipe for us. "Today's generation wants to stay a mile away from aachar ki barnis because they think the excess oil and salt will make them prone to acne or weight gain," laments Prabha Aunty and continues, "I wanted to bring this amla pickle recipe to the limelight because it defies all the notions of pickles being unhealthy. Amlas are nutritious in their own right and are a great source of Vitamin C and as I mentioned before, I use very little oil in my recipe."
While you can enjoy this amla pickle with almost any Indian meal, Prabha Aunty's favourite combination with her amla pickle is "curd rice and dal rice". Just a spoonful of the tangy and sour amla pickle takes these classic comfort food meals to the next level."You can also have it for breakfast with upma, dosa or a simple paratha," she recommends.
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Not Rocket Science
You may presume that pickle-making is a time-consuming process but Prabha Aunty says, "This amla pickle recipe is quick and easy to make as the recipe calls for just 3 to 4 ingredients." Plus, it can be frequently savoured thanks to its low oil content. Prabha Aunty usually uses coconut oil for this amla pickle recipe but she says "a good mustard oil will also do the trick".
Think of her as a delicacy. She could be a red sauce penne pasta or refreshing strawberry smoothie. A little sweet, quite tangy and unapologetic on the palate. Her soul is that of a gastronome, mind of an illustrator and heart of a writer. She uses these ingredients to plate up tasty stories about food at India Food Network as an Associate Editor. Be it her blogs, articles, reviews or food shows; she promises a wholesome affair.