I whined all summer about this year’s poor chilli harvest due to the horrible weather, but I’ve cheered up in recent weeks; with medium daytime temperatures above 25°C and sunny days, September has surprised us with the summer we hadn’t really had this year! Needless to say, my chillies are happier, growing and ripening quicker. The harvests are though still modest and I can pick maybe a dozen of fruits in one week, so instead of the usual “what to do with a big batch of chillies”, I’ve chosen what I consider a perfect method to preserve even a handful of chillies.
My mother has always believed – and I totally agree with her – that preserving in small amounts is not worth it, but she meant the traditional Western recipes such as pickles, sauces or jams, which consume a similar amount of time whether making five or ten jars. These Indian pickles are of a completely different kind: ridiculously easy and quick to prepare (though not so quickly ready to eat!). I cannot imagine a better way to preserve a small batch.
Good news for those who don’t cook Indian, but like spices: these pickles don’t require any Indian dish to be served with! They can be enjoyed in endless ways: on sandwiches, in tortilla rolls, scrambled eggs, salads, mixed with yogurt… I love them for example for breakfast over fresh goat cheese spread on a slice of crisp thin bread (Finncrisp is my favourite). They are also great for those who are afraid of long-term preserving: they are stored in the fridge and keep this way for long months, if you don’t eat them in the meantime, of course!
This recipe is a combination of two sources: the fantastic book by Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi).
The below spice amounts can be changed to your taste, but be careful with fenugreek and asafoetida. They are easy to overdose and make the whole jar of pickles bitter or too pungent.
I’m repeating myself, but try not to skip any spice (unless you hate it) because you will find all the spices either in Asian shops or online, practically all around the world, especially since they are all dry here.
Mustard oil can be bought in Indian grocery shops and can be trickier to shop online, but it does make a big difference in taste and aroma… Otherwise, you can of course experiment with any other oil.
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, such as this one 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, so that no unwanted bacteria gets inside.
If you cook Indian or Sri Lankan from time to time I strongly advise buying a very cheap, simple coffee grinder (the kind you SHOULDN’T use to grind coffee!). Whole spices keep for longer, so you can buy them cheaper, in big bags in Asian shops, and freshly ground ones simply cannot compare in taste to the ones bought already powdered. Moreover, while certain spices are available ground, I don’t think I’ve ever seen ground fenugreek, for example!
Special equipment: disposable gloves if you manipulate hot chillies
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.
Add the spices.
Heat the oil until it’s almost boiling (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.
Put something heavy weight on top (if you have a Japanese pickling jar you have a special heavy “cover”), made of ceramic or glass (a small jar filled with water will be good too), so that the chillies are all submerged.
Cover well with plastic wrap, big ziplock bag or a cover, so that no bacteria or bug 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.
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).