Heeng ka Achar is easy to make and packed with flavours.
I depend on pickles to spice up my life. Most days before I sit down to eat dinner, I’ll pick from my ma-in-law's Heeng Ka Achar, Nani’s Chundo or my friend Harini’s, mango pickle to zing things up.
And then there are other fresher options like, Srishti’s Bong-style mango-green chilli Shorshe Bata.
Hot, sweet, face-puckeringly sour, an Indian meal would be incomplete without a pickle or three to round it off!
Not surprising, after all India perhaps boasts the most extensive repertoire of pickles. Travel the length and breadth of the country, and you will find vegetables, fruits, meats and seafood pickled in a variety of ways.
There are as many varieties of pickles as there are dialects in this country, and no pickle has as many variations as the mango. Which is why a mango pickle from the South will taste totally different from one made in the North, even though it is a mango pickle.
In fact, enter any kitchen in India and you are likely to find a range of pickles lined up somewhere of which, at least one will be a mango pickle!
Even today, rituals of pickle-making define an entire period of the year, when households are given the task of pickling according to recipes that have been passed down from one generation of a family to the next.
Even in cosmopolitan Mumbai, where life moves faster, the pickling season still brings the celebration of communities working together. Taking the tedium out of grating or chopping kilos of produce, are enterprising vendors who home deliver spice mixes and mangoes conveniently prepped to specification.
These are salted and laid out to dry wherever there is a bit of sun (on minuscule balconies or terraces) to concentrate their juices.
And when ready, mixed with the required ingredients and packed into large ceramic jars and left to mature.
For us pickle lovers, the season offers rich pickings. Here are some regional mango pickles I look forward to eating every year.
Gujarati kairi na athaana are the pickles I first tasted and grew up eating, so these are evergreen at my table.
The methia keri - mango pickled with coarsely ground methi and chillies, chhundo - a grated, hot and sweet, sun-cooked mango pickle, gol keri - a sweet and hot chunky green mango pickle cooked to a thick jammy consistency with spices, and the fragrant, sweet murabbo redolent of cloves.
But, the katkiis one that is best made fresh at home when mangoes are in season. And, the shelf version is just not the same as it is cooked longer to preserve and takes away the inherent freshness of the pickle.
Maharashtrian 'lonchas' are fairly spicy for the most part and preserved in groundnut oil. I love them to spice up my masala porridge and dal-rice meals.
There is a large selection of Maharashtrian pickles available; tender whole mango, garlic, chilli, dry mango. But, the whole tender mangoes in brine called panikairi is my favourite. You must try to get your hands on it.
It is usually available in the Achar Galli at Lalbaug in Mumbai.
The Parsi Bafenu is another unusual pickle. Parsis first settled in Gujarat and Parsi cuisine has evolved to include many elements of Gujarati cuisine, including pickles.
There are Parsi versions of the methia kairi and other Gujarati pickles, but particular to the Parsi community is the bafenu, a classic Parsi pickle made with a whole ripe Alphonso mango, and generous doses of the famed cane vinegar produced in Navsari by Kolah's.
It is sweet, slightly hot and resembles a concentrated mango curry more than a pickle. RTI in Mumbai usually stocks it in season.
The North Indian Aam ka Achaar is the best-known pickle of India. They are also the best accompaniments to parathas. Usually pickled in mustard oil, the distinctive feature is the use of 'akkhe masale' or whole spices to flavour it.
But that said, one of the simplest and most delicious North Indian pickles I have come across, is the North Indian Heeng Ka Achaar in which, mangoes are pickled in asafoetida, salt and chillies. It is not to be found easily so I make my own. Consider making some this year too!
Talking about North India, the Sindhis who came to India from the Sind province of what is now Pakistan, brought with them their distinctive cuisine liberally infused with spices, and an exciting mango pickle.
The Bheendi Khatti, also called Kadukash is an absolutely delicious pickle of grated mangoes redolent of spices like kalonji and chillies. If you can get your hands on this one, try very hard. It's one of the most exciting pickles I have ever tasted.
Recipe for my ma-in-law's Heeng Ka Achaar
2 kg raw mangoes - peeled and chopped
200 - 300 gm salt
1/2 c/ 75 gm chilli powder or to taste (Mom uses a 1:1 mix of Kashmiri chillis and spicy chillies from her garden.)
5 gm lump of asafoetida or heeng
1. Cut your mangoes into bite-sized, free-form chunks. (You can reserve immature chunks to add to dals for delicious sourness)
2. Grind the heeng with salt and chilli powder. Place the mangoes in a large steel bowl and add the spice mix a little at a time. You might not end up using it all.
3. Our aim is to achieve a bright orangey red colour. Once you have that, taste the pickle. If it tastes right, stop mixing in the spice mix. If not, add some more until you are happy with it. The great thing about this pickle is that it tastes almost like it will on maturing at the mixing stage, the flavours only mellow with a little as the mangoes give forth their juices.
4. When you are happy with your pickle, transfer to a large glass jar and place it in the sun for a few days, or just mature. I usually pick up the last bit in the bowl with the melting spice mix and settle down to savour it right away as my ma-in-law cringes watching me (she can’t handle sour flavours)!
Photo credit: Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal
Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal began her food career in 2004, as one of India’s pioneering food bloggers and writers. Today, she heads A Perfect Bite® Consulting, a premier food consulting firm and India’s first home cooking studio – the APB Cook Studio®. Her first book, A Pinch of This, A Handful of That, released in December 2013 and recently won the Gourmand World Cookbook awards.