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…
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
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.