Indian Chilli Pickles, the Best Way to Preserve a Handful of Chillies

Indian Fridge Pickles

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 recent, tiny one-week harvest, perfect for a jar of Indian pickles (aji amarillo, ancho, Hungarian Wax, jalapeño, Santa Fe Grande)

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).

TIPS: 

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

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.

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).

4 Replies to “Indian Chilli Pickles, the Best Way to Preserve a Handful of Chillies”

  1. I generally only do small batches because it’s just the two of us and we really don’t consume a lot of pickles. Right now, I have kimchi and Korean pickled carrots and my Polish cleaning lady gave me some of her sweet pickles and mustard pickles do we are all set. Does your pickling method temper the heat? I used to love the heat but recently have not been able to tolerate it.

    1. Hi Eva, I prepare very small jars, but I rarely embark on less than 1kg of produce pickling process if I have to cook for a long time, put into jars, make sure they are closed in the hot water bath, etc.. Even though we don’t eat pickles/preserves every day, if I prepare a dozen of small chilli jelly jars, they don’t even last a year…
      I’m curious about the mustard pickles you mention. I have never heard about these!
      Luckily my chillies don’t get weaker during pickling, otherwise I would use sweet peppers instead 😉 You can prepare of course the same pickles with sweet peppers too (small would be the best, I think).

  2. My mother was the same way about big batch vs. small. She did 20 pints a jar per session, I do one. 🙂 Now a days I pickle in small batches using olive brine and pickle brine, but you know that. Had some olive brine onions on tacos tonight. Yum! Looks like we’re just going to be getting a handful of chiles this year so this pickled recipe will come in handy. So glad that your chili finally picked up. Your pickles look very, very tasty! I already tasty them on a BLT.

    1. Hi MJ! My mum too… I still remember when she pickled dozens of jars of mushrooms in vinegar… I remember so well your pickle brine, of course! I love this idea and often use it especially when reusing the jalapeño-stuffed olives brine. Delicious with cucumbers! I must try with onions too, thank you for the tip.
      Thank you so much for the kind words! This week aji amarillo fruits ripen like crazy… I cross my fingers for the frost to arrive the latest possible… It’s been a hard year.

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