Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Not Exactly Mango Pickle

I just returned from a blissful, week-long vacation at my sister's in NY. When we get together, it is madness. No matter how often (twice a day to be specific) we talk to each other, we never seem to run out of topics to discuss. The most important of them all being food! Even during my rushed visit, we roamed around the 24 hour Indian grocery store oohing and aahing over our favorite produce, and came back with Kelphul (banana blossom) and Ambe-Halad (mango ginnger) among other things. My sister wanted to pick the most unique ingredients available to have fun cooking together. We made our favorite lip-smackingly good spicy-tangy-salty piquant pickle with mango ginger. I'll post the more elaborate kelphul recipe later.

Mango ginger, which has nothing to do with either mango or ginger, is fresh turmeric root. It gets its name for the resemblance to the ginger root and an unmistakable mango blossom aroma. It's called Ambe Halad (Mango Turmeric) in Marathi, also for that sweet and sour fragrance and gorgeous deep mango color.  Another variety of turmeric is quite similar to ginger in color (I have some white turmeric pickle made a couple of months ago sitting in my fridge already). While fresh turmeric can fill up your house with its fragrance, the taste is quite delicate. In fact, it doesn't taste much like anything when you bite into it. But a simple, almost instant pickle made with it can pack quite a punch. The pickle uses two ingredients only as preservatives - lime/lemon juice and salt. Some green chilies are added for heat and flavor. Once the flavors penetrate the turmeric, you get this irresistible pickle that makes you wince at first and go "mmm" after when you take a bite - much like how you would react to a sour patch! Mom/grandma used to make a big jarful of Ambe Halad pickle at the start of summer. It was important to have abundant sunlight for the pickle to marinate. My grandpa did the peeling of turmeric carefully, which bled that dark orange color all over. As long as you don't get that color on your clothes, it's totally worth having orange fingertips for a couple of days - just to remind you of all the yumminess you'll eat with your meals :D.

Ambe Halad - Mirchi Lonache (Mango Ginger & Chili Pickle)

2 Cups chopped ambe-halad
3/4 Cup (or more) chopped green chilies (Thai or Serrano)
8-10 Lemons/limes
Salt to taste

  • Peel the skin of ambe halad and chop into ~1/8 inch discs. If you are worried about the color, wear thin serving gloves. Chop green chilies into 1/4 inch thickness.
  • Put the chopped chilies & turmeric in an air-tight jar/bottle. Add enough lemon/lime juice to them so they are completely submerged.
  • Add lots of salt to it - a big fistful or more. The salt will act as a preservative, so it's important to add enough. The pickle should be salty when freshly made.
  • Close the jar/bottle tightly and keep it in the sunlight for two days. This helps the marination process and penetrate flavors. 
While I make my pickle using the method above, you can add a simple tempering to it for some more flavor. Heat a tablespoon of oil and add 1 teaspoon mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add a little less than 1/2 teaspoon asafoetida and mix into the pickle. The strong flavor of asafoetida is wonderful in the pickle. 

The pickle is ready to be eaten or stored it in the fridge to enjoy later. It lasts for months and tastes better by the day. The green chilies mellow down because of the acidity and salt. Even I can eat the chilies by themselves (and everyone knows I can't eat spicy).

Btw - you can make this pickle with green chilies only or with other firm veggies/fruits like carrots, radish, green mangoes etc.

Submitting this recipe to the Celebrate Summer event hosted by Nivedhanam.

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