Category Archives: Side dishes

Indian Short-Term Fridge Chilli Pickles

If you think these pickles look and sound familiar, you are right: this is exactly the same recipe I posted seven months ago. I didn’t include it in my previous preserving post (My Favourite Summer Savoury Pickles) because it is unique. When I first made it – and shared with you my enthusiasm – it was the middle of winter, the chillies were imported from a warmer continent and not half as good as local seasonal produce, nonetheless these Indian pickles were so extraordinary I promised myself I would write about them once more when chilli season arrives.

Now that I have tested several chilli varieties, I find these pickles the best with jalapeños because they stay relatively crunchy throughout weeks and of course because jalapeños are highly aromatic and delicious!, so if you have a chance to test this recipe with jalapeños, I urge you to do so.

Although I have already grown chillies on my balcony, I was particularly thrilled this year to pick my own balcony-grown jalapeños. They aren’t sold fresh anywhere in my city, so the only way to get them was to sow them and grow on my own. Maybe they don’t look as perfect and as plump as those grown outdoors, but they are absolutely delicious. The photo of this very first harvest was taken a month ago and I’m so happy to have been able to pick a similar amount every single week since then! Obviously every week a new small batch of Indian pickles is started!

This recipe was inspired by two sources: a recipe found in  Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and another one, from the newly discovered Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi).

Even though both sources are Indian, these pickles taste fantastic in sandwiches, on toasts, in salads and they give a nice fiery kick to every dish from all around the world. One of my favourite ways to have them is with crisp Finnish bread, on top of a thick layer of fresh goat cheese…

TIPS:

If, once your jar is empty, you are left with some thick spicy brine, don’t throw it away! It’s fantastic mixed with mayonnaise or as a salad sauce or as an addition to a vinaigrette sauce. (I have tested only these three options but I’m sure it can be used in other ways too). I don’t advise reusing it for a new batch of fresh chillies.

Chillies have different heat levels and some are ridiculously mild (at least for me), so even if you cannot handle fiery food (and for example jalapeños are out of question), you can still prepare these pickles with mild chillies because the spices here don’t contain chilli powder. You can also look for thin-skinned sweet peppers and cut them into bite-sized pieces. What makes these pickles fantastic is the aromatic, spice-loaded brine, the heat comes after (of course for us, chilli lovers, both are important!).

You can also use raw red chilli, but Indian sources suggest green chilli is the best for pickling. (And I second it, green jalapeños being the best!). Apart from the different, fresher taste, I wonder if green chillies don’t stay firmer when pickled.

I have noticed that Indian dried spices are available practically all around the world (at least online), so try not to skip any of the below ingredients (such as asafoetida, which cannot be substituted and which adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to these pickles making them really special).

You will find all the spices and the mustard oil in Indian/Sri Lankan grocery shops. Mustard oil does make a huge difference in taste here… but you can use also for example peanut oil.

The below spice amounts can be changed to your taste, but be careful with fenugreek. It’s easy to overdose and thus make the whole jar of pickles bitter (I’ve had this awful experience once with a curry dish). Asafoetida is quite strong, but it’s not as “dangerous” as fenugreek (in my opinion).

Special equipment: disposable gloves

Preparation: 15 minutes + minimum 3 days

Ingredients:

250 g (about 1/2 lb) fresh green chillies without stalks

50 ml mustard oil

6 teaspoons salt

juice from 1 lime (or 1/2 lemon)

3 heaped teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons vinegar (I’ve used cider vinegar)

2 tablespoons white/yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1/3 teaspoon asafoetida powder

Grind all the spices in a spice grinder or in a cheap coffee grinder (I have one I bought only for spices, see TIPS above).

Put on disposable gloves. Slice the chillies or cut them into bite-sized pieces. (Remove the seeds and white parts if you want less heat).

Place the chilli pieces tightly in a glass jar or any other container (a Japanese pickling jar, such as this one is a fantastic gadget here).

Add the spices.

Heat the oil (but don’t boil it) and pour it over the chillies.

Add the lime juice, the vinegar, the salt and give it a good stir.

The chilli pieces must be submerged in the pickling liquid, so once you mix everything, you must put something heavy on top. A Japanese pickling jar with a weight will be perfect, but you can also use a bigger jar for pickling and a small clean jar filled with water as a weight. Afterwards you should put a lid on the jar or cover with plastic film (or simply a plastic bag), so that no unwanted bacteria or insect gets inside.

Cover well with plastic wrap or a cover, so that no bacteria gets inside, and leave at room temperature for two-three days. Stir the content once a day with a clean fork or spoon.

The chillies will soften, their volume will be reduced and their colour will change to an olive hue; then they will be ready to eat. (At this point you can transfer them into a smaller container or jar).

Store the pickles tightly closed in the fridge and whenever you fish some pieces out, make sure you use a clean fork or spoon (i.e. not used on any other food product).

I eat them quite quickly, but sometimes I have two batches at the same time, so I have noticed they stay delicious and unspoilt in the fridge for several weeks.

 

Sri Lankan Tangy Aubergine Curry (Kathirikai pirattal)

I used to say the best aubergine dishes can be found in Indian cuisine, but after discovering this Sri Lankan curry, I am no longer sure… I know this plate doesn’t look particularly attractive, but believe me, it’s one of the best vegetable dishes I have ever eaten. It’s rich in spices, light,  but slightly creamy, the aubergines are still a bit firm and the tamarind’s presence gives this typical addictive tangy twist I love, particularly in the summer. As for the big fat slices of garlic…. all I can say is I’ll put twice as much of these next time!

This recipe comes from the beautifully edited Sri Lanka. The Cookbook by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa. It’s a rather recent buy, but until now everything I have cooked from this book was absolutely delicious and, contrary to what I used to think, every dish had something different from what I would recognise as Indian cuisine(s), in both flavours and techniques. This being said, the good news is that if you cook Indian from time to time, you will probably have already all the necessary spices in your kitchen, since most Sri Lankan seasoning ingredients are the same (apart from pandan leaves, for example, but these don’t appear everywhere).

This curry tastes best now, when aubergines are in season, and even though the word “curry” might make you think it’s a heavy, calorie-loaded dish, actually it’s quite light and summery because – and it’s a recurrent element in this book – the sauce is rather “thin” (and of course you can reduce, just like I did, the amount of coconut milk) and also thanks to its tanginess I consider perfect for hot weather. As always, I have slightly changed the ingredients’ amounts and the procedure, so make sure you check the original and discover this wonderful cuisine through the recipes presented by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa

TIPS: As I have mentioned, if you cook Indian from time to time, you will probably have all the necessary dry ingredients to prepare this dish.

Tamarind can be found in practically every Asian grocery (I’ve seen it in a Vietnamese shop, an Indian shop and a Thai shop) or bought on internet. Don’t skip it and don’t think it can be easily replaced with lime for example (at worst you can of course put some lime juice at the end, but you will obtain a tangy dish without the tamarind’s distinct flavours).

You can buy tamarind in a block that dissolves in hot water or a ready to use tamarind pulp in a jar. I prefer the dried block because it tastes better and keeps literally for years in the fridge. A piece of the block must be placed in boiling water and, after 15 minutes you have to strain it, squeezing well the solid parts. The tamarind pulp in a jar doesn’t keep forever (I had to throw away half of the jar once) and it’s not as tangy as the “juice” made from the pulp. It’s quicker to use though. I have no idea what is the pulp equivalent in this dish (or any dish I make), so I can only advise adding it gradually and adjusting the taste to your preferences.

If you cannot get fresh curry leaves, skip them. Dried curry leaves are tough (impossible to eat afterwards, while they are supposed to be eaten, unlike bay leaves, for example) and lose the majority of their aroma. Curry leaves freeze very well, especially if vacuum packed or very tightly wrapped in plastic film, but I’ve never seen them frozen in shops… so if you get hold of them, freeze them in small portions tightly wrapped or, even better, vacuum packed. If you live in the US: I’ve seen some people grow curry leaf trees and sell fresh leaves on internet.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves 3-4 as a side-dish):

2 medium Western aubergines our 6-7 small Asian (long ones)

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds (I have used black)

a small handful of picked fresh curry leaves

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

2 small medium-hot green chillies (found in Indian or Sri Lankan shops) or other green medium-hot chilies

3 big shallots or 1 big onion

8 medium garlic cloves

5 cm square of tamarind block dissolved in 200 ml (about 3/4 cup) hot water and strained (see the TIPS above)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon chilli powder (or more/less); I have used 2 teaspoons Kashmiri chilli powder which is not very hot but has a beautiful red colour

salt to taste

100 ml (about 3 1/2 oz) coconut milk (I have used recently 60 ml and it was delicious too)

Cut the aubergines into bite-sized pieces (while cutting put the pieces into a bowl filled with water, so that they don’t change their colour too much).

Cut the chillies lengthwise and then horizontally (in half or more, depending on the length; you should obtain 2, max 3 cm pieces/roughly 1in pieces).

Slice thickly garlic cloves (I have cut each into 4-5 thick slices).

Cut the shallots into thin slices.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan and stir-fry the aubergines at medium heat until they are slightly browned.

Take them off the pan and put aside.

Add one more tablespoon oil into the same pan and stir-fry mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the curry leaves, the cumin and fenugreek seeds.

After 1 minute add the green chilli, the shallots and stir-fry them at medium heat until the shallots are soft and start browning.

Now add the garlic and stir-fry for one more minute.

Take the pan off the heat, add the powdered spices and mix well.

Pour the tamarind water and the coconut milk and let all simmer until 1/3 of the liquid evaporates (or until the sauce is thick enough for you; I preferred it rather thick/dry).

Finally, add the aubergines, season the curry with salt and give it a good stir.

Warm up for about five minutes.

 

Quick Chilli Pickle in Reused Olive Brine

When I met MJ and started reading the wonderful MJ’s Kitchen I discovered a whole new world of exotic dishes, ingredients and techniques. We share a huge love for chilli (or chile, as MJ would say) in all its forms, but her ways of cooking and using it are usually completely new to me. MJ might be surprised but I always think about her whenever I open a jar of olives. In fact, until I met MJ I would simply discard the olive brine from an empty jar, (unless my husband hasn’t drunk it!), but I’ve seen MJ use olive brine in so many creative ways, it started to make me think it’s totally wrong to throw it away.

One day I thought I’d recycle this brine and try making quick chilli pickles. The result was so good, I now always make sure I have two or three chillies in the fridge whenever I open a jar of olives. Such quickly pickled chilli slices are still crunchy, only lightly altered in taste and texture and they make an excellent snack or an addition to salads and sandwiches. If, like my husband, you like drinking olive brine, you can still drink it after you’ve finished this “secondary” pickle, but beware, the brine will be even hotter than the chilli. Now olive brine makes me think even more about MJ because I know as soon as I finish the olives, I’ll throw some chillies into the same jar and have a delicious hot snack I’m sure she would enjoy. Thank you so much, dear MJ, for your constant inspiration!

If you have just opened a jar of vinegar-pickled vegetables (cucumbers for example), once you have finished it, you can try the same method to make quick secondary cucumber pickles with leftover vinegar pickling brine:

Cucumber Pickled in Reused Vinegar Brine

TIPS: This quick recycled brine pickling idea is intended for olives pickled in salt brine (salt and water), not preserved in oil or with addition of oil (you might try it too, but I don’t guarantee the results).

The photo you see above was made at the moment I started pickling. The red chilli colour won’t change but the green chilli slices will soon turn olive green, so don’t worry, it’s normal.

Some olives are sold in plastic pouches. Once you have finished the olives, transfer the brine into a glass jar and then  pickle the chillies (don’t reuse the plastic pouch for that). Olives might be sold also in metal cans, but I’ve never tried pickling in the leftover brine from such olives. I’m worried it might take a metallic taste… If you ever intend to do it, make sure you don’t reuse the same can (anyway, I’m sure most of you know, metal cans should be emptied as soon as they are open, so you should transfer the olives with their brine into a ceramic or glass container as soon as you open them).

Obviously, if you don’t like fiery food and cannot handle chillies, you can pickle sweet peppers in the same way.

If your pickled chilli has developed a mould on top, throw it away and don’t be put off by this first experience. I have made these reused brine pickles at least dozen of times, always in the same way and once they developed mould, I have no idea why (it might have been some dirt on the chillies or a fork which had touched some other food product and then used to retrieve olives from this brine…).

Preparation: 2-3 days

Ingredients:

a jar with brine from pickled olives (you can reuse the same jar)

raw chillies, washed, dried and sliced

Place the chilli slices into the brine, making sure the liquid covers all of them (they will float a bit of course, but don’t pack too much chilli, otherwise some of the pieces won’t pickle at all) and cover with a tight lid.

Place the jar into the warmest part of the fridge (vegetable drawer is a good place or the fridge doors) and wait 2 or 3 days (taste the chilli to see if it’s already changed the taste). You can shake the jar once or twice a day. Don’t keep these pickles for more than a week and transfer them to a colder place in the fridge once you think they are done. (After a certain time they might start developing mould).

Steamed Aubergine with a Korean Sesame and Chilli Sauce

I have good news for all those who avoid aubergines due to their scary fat absorbing capacity: they are absolutely delicious steamed! Though any aubergine can be used, I find mini and so-called “Asian” varieties particularly fit for this method, so I am always thrilled to see them finally in my grocery shop or on farmers markets. Steamed aubergine is not new to me, but this summer I tried it seasoned Korean way and loved it. Easy, quick and addictive, this is a perfect cooling summer side dish!

I found this easy recipe in Our Korean Kitchen by Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo, a collection of fantastic and easy Korean home recipes, which was a wonderful present from a particularly kind friend of mine. As always I have slightly changed the amounts of ingredients and have also added some rice vinegar to make this dish even more summery (I always crave vinegared side-dishes when it’s hot), so make sure you check the original recipe in this beautifully illustrated book.

If one day you’ve had enough of the Korean flavours, you might try steamed aubergines with a Sichuanese chilli sauce:

Steamed Aubergine with Chilli Sauce

TIPS: You can serve these aubergines both cold and tepid, but I don’t advice serving them hot. (You can also prepare them in advance, but maybe several hours before…. they tend to lose taste and texture if kept for example 24 hours).

You will find the ingredients of this sauce in any Asian shop (or maybe even a “normal” supermarket). If you cannot buy Korean powdered chilli pepper, use any powdered chilli you have (adjust the heat level to your palate). In this case, the best solution, in my opinion, is to grind whole dried chilli peppers to a rough texture (not a complete powder), but even completely powdered chilli will be ok here.

Preparation: about 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a side-dish):

4-5 small aubergines (by small I mean the small thin-skinned variety) or 1 medium Western aubergine

toasted sesame seeds

Sauce:

1 tablespoon light soy sauce (or more, if using low-sodium soy sauce)

2 long stems of spring onion, chopped

1-2 big crushed garlic clove(s)

1 heaped teaspoon Korean chilli flakes/powder or any other chilli flakes/powder

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Preheat water in a steamer, a rice -cooker with a steaming plate or in a pan (if you use a steaming basket).

Cut the small aubergines in two lengthwise, and then in two widthwise (removing the leaves and the stem of course). If you use a Western bigger variety, cut it in four lengthwise and then cut each piece in two.

Steam at high heat for about ten-fifteen minutes.

Serve cold or tepid with the sauce on top, sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Armenian Cucumber Kimchi

This is the most recent kimchi recipe in my collection, and, most of all, a short report on my recent vegetable – or rather a fruit – discovery. A week ago I saw Armenian cucumbers for the first time in my life. I had never tasted them before, the shop assistant either, but they were locally grown and organic, so I was even more tempted. First, avoiding risks, I served half of it as a simple side-dish with vinaigrette and it was so good, I decided to try the remaining part in kimchi. Freshly made and after four days, it was particularly crunchy, refreshing and perfect for the summer heat, but I am also sure that, contrary to standard cucumber, this one might keep crunchy for long months…

Armenian cucumber (Cucumis melo var. flexuosus), also known as snake cucumber or serpent cucumber, is apparently closest to muskmelon, but also related to standard cucumbers. As its name suggests, it apparently originated in Armenia but nowadays is cultivated in many countries, such as USA or Japan. (From what I have noticed online Japanese uri look a bit different and all have smooth skin, though probably share the same texture and flavours) Armenian cucumber is less watery and much crunchier than any standard cucumber variety (the texture is closer to a small young courgette). It has a very thin skin which makes peeling unnecessary (though I never peel cucumbers anyway) and, though its taste bears some resemblance  to the cucumber, its flavours are more delicate and it’s much crunchier. I already see myself experimenting a lot with this new summer discovery, so I hope I’ll be able to see it on sale more often!

For those who have never heard of kimchi (김치), it is a preparation of fermented vegetables with dried chili peppers and other seasonings and has a very long history, though chilli was added only in XVIth century. (In fact, there exists also a “white” kimchi version, without chilli). Apart from the chili, garlic, ginger and scallions are the most frequent seasoning ingredients. It also always contains a fermentation “enhancer” such as fish sauce, raw shrimp, raw oysters or fermented fish.

Kimchi has a very powerful smell, but once you taste it and love it, the smell will never be associated with anything unpleasant. It is spicy, hot, sour and, like most fermented vegetables, very healthy. Apart from being served as a side dish, kimchi (matured one) is used in fried rice, stew and soups. 

Many vegetables can be made into kimchi, but Napa cabbage is the most popular and from my experience it can be kept in the fridge even for a year. I have already prepared daikon (white radish) kimchi, celery kimchi, white cabbage kimchi and cucumber kimchi which is my number one in the summer because it’s refreshing and particularly good when young, i.e. one or two weeks old. 

If you don’t have Armenian cucumber, you might like one of these versions of kimchi:

Easy Cucumber Kimchi (Oi Kimchi)

Bok choy/Pak choy kimchi

Mak Kimchi (Easy Napa Cabbage Kimchi)

White Radish Kimchi (Kkakdugi)

Celery Kimchi

TIPS: If you make kimchi for the first time, make sure you find Korean chilli flakes. Powdered chilli of any other origin will not do here unfortunately. You probably won’t have any problems finding the remaining ingredients (I use Thaï fish sauce, which is available in practically all the Asian shops).

If your kimchi grows mould or has an weird smell after fermenting (though sometimes to recognise it you must be familiar with the normal kimchi smell…), it means the container is not airtight. Apart from special kimchi containers, I strongly recommend Lock&Lock containers, which are airtight, keep for years and are BPA free. They are available all around the world, I think (I buy them online though).

This kimchi is quite versatile: it can be eaten straight away as a kind of spicy side-dish or fermented for two days and kept for a long time in the fridge (see below).

Do not peel Armenian cucumbers. The skin is very thin, delicious and probably packed with fibers.

Carrot is optional. I add it from time to time. Toasted sesame seeds are also optional. You can add them while preparing kimchi or just before serving.

Preparation: 45 minutes + chilling time or, if you ferment it, minimum 1 week

Ingredients:

500 g (about 2 lb) Armenian cucumber

1 tablespoon coarse salt

1-2 teaspoons garlic (grated or crushed)

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

3-4 heaped tablespoons Korean chili flakes

1 tablespoon fish sauce

3 green onion stalks, cut into 2 cm pieces

(1 small carrot, julienned)

(toasted sesame seeds)

Cut the cucumber in two lengthwise. Remove the seeds with a special spoon or simply scratch this soft part with a spoon.  Then cut the pieces once more in two lengthwise and then into thick slices.

Sprinkle the cucumber pieces with salt and leave them for 30 minutes.

Drain the cucumber, but do not rinse it.

Add all the seasoning ingredients and combine with the cucumber.

Wait for 20-30 minutes and serve straight away (chilled) or leave for two days in an airtight jar or other non-reactive container to ferment in room temperature and then keep in the fridge for months.

If you decide to ferment them, after placing the cucumber mixture in a container, rinse the bowl in which you have mixed it with about 100 ml water and pour it over the tightly packed cucumber chunks.