Food

Red Chilly Pickle

This pickle is unique to Andhra Pradesh, India where i was born (in Hyderabad) and brought up. Pickles is a way of life for the Andhras.  These are childhood memories of watching and participating when our grannies, mothers, aunts would collectively make pickles for all families for the whole year. It was a group activity and the pickle portions were divided as per family requirements.

These hot red chillies (picture below) are available in Andhra Pradesh, Mahrashtra, Delhi and perhaps in some other states of India that i know not of yet.  These are available only during Febraury-March-April of each year.  Andhras make a special thokku (pickle/chutney) with these which is very tasty.

The shelf life of these raw and fresh plucked red chillies is very short – of less than a day.  If kept for longer it starts to rot rendering it useless for any other purpose except junking.

So i buy only when i have the time to process them immediately, on the same day.

The taste of the pickle is fiery hot with a fruity flavor to it, hard to describe but easy to get hooked to.  I follow a traditional Andhra recipe.  It’s to die for.  Best as a side accompaniment with steamed rice, Indian breads and Indian tiffins like dosa, upma, etc.

Ingredients:

1. Red chillies (15 to 20), 2. Raw Tamarind (the size of a tennis ball), 3. Salt (2 Tbsps), 4. Asofoetida (1 Tsp), 5. Jaggery (1 tsp shredded or powdered) and 6. Gingely oil (5 Tbspns) for tempering (with 1 Tsp each of mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds).

Process:

First wash the chillies and pat them dry as gently as possible, as they are delicate! Further dry them out on a cloth under the fan breeze for 2 to 3 hours to evaporate any moisture in them.  Moisture and water are number 1 enemies of pickles.  When dry, pull out the top stem, slit them (take off the seeds if you don’t want the pickle to be too spicy), and then cut them into 1 inch bits.  Take a blender/mixer and input the chopped chillies, tamarind, salt, asofoetida, jaggery and blend them all into a course paste.  Now output the paste into a steel or glass bowl.  Heat gingely oil until it begins to fume.  Put off flame, quickly add the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds to the hot oil and cover it with a lid for a minute allowing mustard seeds to splutter.  After about 4 or 5 minutes, pour the hot tempered oil over the course paste in the bowl and give it all a nice mix. Your red chilly pickle is ready to enjoy.  The taste gets better with each passing day.  Day one – it will be spicy and strong.  From day three it will have started to gently age and addictive.

The Andhras do it in a different way to prolong the pickle’s shelf life.  They hand pound the washed-and-dried red chillies with some rock salt and de-seeded tamarind.  This course paste is stored in air-tight porcelain jars.  As and when the family feels like eating it, a small portion of the paste is transferred to a bowl and seasoned with tempering it with hot gingely oil, mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds with asoefotida powder. Add a little sugar or jaggery and check for salt.  Pickled and preserved but seasoned when it’s used for the day.

Tip: Even small traces of water or moisture will rot and spoil any pickle quickly.

These red chillies are difficult to find in Chennai. Silk saree weavers in olden times would come out with this lovely combo of chilli red color for body with bright green color for border in a silk saree. Almost always the Indian saree colors are inspired by nature. Wonder if these color combos are still available in silk sarees.  One of my favorite color combination is this.

 Mahalakshmi
Rama Gopalakrishnan's photo.
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