Indian Chilli Pickles

indian_pickledchillipI you didn’t expect to see a pickling post in January, believe me, I’m as surprised as you are, but sometimes cravings make one forget about the seasonality of fresh produce. After my French cuisine-inspired Christmas and New Year’s Eve I’ve been craving fiery, spicy, rich Indian food more than ever, hence probably this pickling idea. As a chilli addict and a serial pickler I have my pantry, fridge and kitchen filled with different spicy jars. I’ve been pickling for years, constantly searching for new ideas from all around the world…. so finally I thought it was time to turn to Indian cuisine I love more and more every year. My first experiment was so successful, I can only regret I haven’t tried making any Indian preserves before and I strongly recommend trying these not only to Indian food lovers but all my fellow chilli addicts.

I have combined two sources, one from the fantastic book by Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and another from the newly discovered Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi), the latter recipe being much richer in spices and closer to what I had in mind thinking of Indian pickled chilli. If you know Patak’s, the famous British brand of Indian pickles, and if you love their products as much as I do (my favourite are chilli and mango pickles), you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover my very first homemamde Indian pickles had this distinctive Patak’s aroma I’m totally addicted to! Moreover, they seemed crunchier and less oily than the famous jars’ content. Needless to say, I feel it’s only the beginning of my long adventure with Indian pickling…

These chillies are perfect on sandwiches, in tortilla rolls, in scrambled eggs (!!!) and simply served with any dish, not necessarily Indian. My favourite light breakfast (I’m rarely hungry in them morning) is now a slice of crisp thin bread (Finncrisp is the best!) with a thick layer of goat cheese or quark/curd cheese and two or three slices of these pickles. I have no words to describe how fantastic it is!

TIPS: In theory fresh chilli is not now in season in this part of the world, but the one sold by my supermarket comes from Moroccan greenhouses, smells great and apparently is perfect for pickles even in the middle of winter.

I’ve checked on many online sources and I saw that Indian dried spices are available practically all around the world, so try not to skip any of the below ingredients (such as asafoetida, which cannot be substituted and it adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to these pickles and make them really special). Mustard oil is also very good here.

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).

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…

You can also use raw red chilli, but Indian sources suggest green raw chilli is the best for pickling. Obviously adapt the heat level to your taste and capacity to eat fiery food. In general, I’d recommend medium hot chillies (but this is a rather personal concept).

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, so that no unwanted bacteria gets inside.

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.

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 ok), so that the chillies are all submerged in the oily mixture.

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.

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).

14 Replies to “Indian Chilli Pickles”

  1. I have to agree with A_Boleyn! You kick butt in the creativity department! Another fabulous pickled chilli recipe! Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until summer to give this a try. No fresh green chiles to be found here. 🙁

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. I have hardly changed the two Indian recipes, so it’s not really my merit… I’m sure you would love these pickles. It’s such an explosion of different flavours! I wish I could send you some…
      It’s funny but we have a constant supply of at least three kinds of imported chillies in one of the nearby supermarkets. All year round! Sadly, local farmers don’t grow chilli (apart from one organic farm which this year had only a limited crop of habaneros…), so I rely on imported green house-grown chillies even in the summer. (I don’t see the difference in taste or aroma, so I guess it’s always green house-grown). I’m sure your seasonal local chillies taste fantastic!

  2. I just love Indian food and for once, I actually have all of the listed spices in my pantry. Asafoetida is also a digestive aid (I also read that it is added to reduce gas when eating beans and pulses!). I have a wonderful recipe to make lamb popsickles (not real opisickles but French cut racks of lamb) in a fenugreek cream sauce that is out of this world. We rarely gave it because a rack of lamb is ridiculously expensive. I can only imagine how moreish these pickles are! Your breakfast sounds wonderful.

    1. Thank you so much, Eva. Your lamb with fenugreek sauce sounds fantastic. I love Indian cuisine because apart from coriander and curry leaves (and sometimes fresh chilli that I have in the fridge all the time anyway), practically all the seasonings can be stocked for a long time, so now I hardly ever need to buy new ingredients whenever I feel like cooking Indian.

  3. I love Indian food and miss it as we don’t have a restaurant in our area, let alone an Indian market. I’ll just have to take your word for how good your pickle is. Perhaps when we go to south Florida to visit our children, I’ll be able to find an Indian market there and buy some spices.

    1. Thank you, Karen. We do have many Indian (or Indian-style) restaurants but as soon as I started to cook Indian recipes, I realised all the places I went to serve excessively greasy bland food and the menu is almost always the same… so I stopped eating out Indian. The only thing I miss from these restaurants are soft fluffy naans…
      You are lucky to live in a country where all the Indian spices are available through internet, so don’t worry! (You can even easily buy fresh curry leaves, which are now impossible to find here, hence my attempts to grow the curry leaf tree indoors…).

  4. I love pickles but I don’t pickle often enough, because when I do I have to eat the whole jar alone… My husband would only eat gherkins from time to time… But these chilies sounds so good! I buy my Romanian style pickled chilies in the Turkish food store, but I would love to try an Indian version of them.

    1. Thanks a lot, Adina. I must check what the Turkish or Romanian style pickled chillies taste like. I’m really curious!
      (By the way, I often pickle and preserve only what I like. I make a big batch, divide into small jars and thus I don’t have problems with big jar for myself only. My husband loves theses chillies, but if he didn’t, I cannot imagine refusing myself the pleasure to snack on them!).

  5. “…as a chilli addict and a serial pickler” heeheeh, I love that. I know exactly what you mean about off-season cravings too… I get the weirdest cravings for shrimp and lobster in the dead of winter (?). Sounds like I need to get familiar with asafoetida powder – thank you also for giving a guideline on the type of chile and heat you typically use. One thing we’ve noticed is the variation in heat within the same class of peppers (it can be surprising). I’ve experienced this with New Mexico green chiles but more recently, my husband and I enjoyed some delicious tapas over the holidays featuring padron peppers (pimientos de padrón) – they are known as the roulette of peppers (a bit like shishito) – mostly mild and sweet but every now and again you come across a really hot one! (kinda of exciting and scary too ;-).

    1. Hi Kelly, one never knows with chilli… Sometimes the same variety sold by the same vendor at the market is more or less spicy. One never knows. It depends on the weather, the sun, etc.. I wish I had your garden… I’d grow tons of chillies every year! (I had at least half a kilo from two balcony plants, so I already imagine what I could harvest from your garden). Talking about shishito, this year I’ll grow it from seeds. I brought lots of fresh shishito from Japan, dried the seeds and wait for the spring to come!

      1. your plans for growing shishito from seed sounds perfect – how wonderful too that they were harvested from fresh plants from Japan – doesn’t get better than that! I grew jalapeno our first year here and I must say it was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced – it just thrilled me to see the little peppers growing — they were very hot though so a little tip from one would work just fine in a meal. We got a ton of them too so I learnt that a little goes a long way 🙂

        1. I always grow chillies this way on my balcony. Never bought seeds! And it always works… actually the worst harvest I’ve ever had was from a seedling bought in a gardening shop… Lucky you with jalapeños! I’ve never seen them fresh here (only pickled). I hope you will show us your chillies if you grow them this year too!

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