I grew up at IITD and and the campus Kendriya Vidyalaya (Central School) was my high school. KVIIT was also the campus-school for the two other neighbouring educational campuses – the NCERT and JNU. That was a time when the middle class still sent their children to public schools. My mother was a teacher in the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan but by the time she managed a transfer to KVIIT, I had already graduated. Mr Bhujangarao, from Andhra Pradesh, was our Principal in my last two years at school. He and his family lived on-campus, close to our house, and over the years our families became close friends. As with all good neighbours, there was much exchange of food and recipes. We would visit each other often for dinners; Mrs Bhujanga Rao feeding our need for dosai, idly, and upma, and my mom trying to satisfy her two boys with chhole and rajma. I still remember how I loved the spicy upma, with lots of tomatoes, that she brought for me when I was recovering from some minor illness. Nothing like Guntur chillies to awaken taste buds flatened by sickness.
Our visits continued even after Mr B was promoted and moved a little further in South Delhi, then to Chennai, and even after he retired and moved to Hyderabad. His older son, also a friend, moved to Delhi a few years ago and we call on him when his parents come visiting. Krishna auntie still insists we leave after a meal, lunch or dinner – as the case may be, and it is very hard for me to turn down her cooking. When she was getting ready to leave Delhi many decades back, I requested her mango pickle recipe. We knew we would miss her gentle ways and her cooking, but, at least, we didn’t have to live the rest of our lives without her mango pickle!
Another mango pickle that we loved in our childhood was Bedekar’s Maharashtrian style amba lonche, fine-diced green mangoes with an intense flavour of hing. After I got married imagine my happiness at having giant jars of this mango pickle sitting in the house! It wasn’t entirely homemade as my mother-in-law used to make it with the K-Pra brand packaged masala, but it hit the spot truly. The spice-mix for pickles from Southern India, including those from Maharashtra and Gujarat are similar; the proportions vary only a little. Maharashtrians, and perhaps, even the Gujaratis, prefer to use mustard dal (dehusked, split mustard seeds), which makes for a lighter coloured khaar. What varies more is how the mango is prepared. For the Andhra-style pickle, mangoes are chopped keeping the hard inner endocarp attached, as is also done for the Punjabi-style mango pickle. The pieces cut for Andhra-style pickle are smaller than for the Punjabi one. Mangoes for the Maharashrian style pickle are chopped even smaller, about 1-1.5 centimeter dice, and clear of the stone. All but a few green mango pickles retain the skin of the fruit. The Konkani kochla nonche (love, love this recipe too!) uses shredded green mangoes and comes closest to Bedekar’s amba lonche of my childhood!
From making 3kgs of this pickle every year, I am now down to making just 1kg. Not entirely because we are eating less than we used to but more because I now make too many kinds of pickles! We, the son and I, love the hint of garlic in this pickle and the intense heat of the red chillies. I used to pack it with besan paranthas for his school lunch sometimes. The association stuck so much that he will eat it only with besan-paranthas now! He will be visiting us next month and I hope to serve this for breakfast one morning.
I use the Ramkela variety to make this pickle – use any firm, sour green mangoes. When I was transferring the recipe from wherever I had noted it initially (many years ago) I seem to have omitted the measure for the spices but since the ‘katori’ is the traditional measure in the Indian kitchen, I used that and the recipe has worked fine for me year after year. I prefer to use sesame oil for this pickle though you may also use refined peanut oil. Over the years I have also reduced the oil a little bit. Adjust the spices to your liking but don’t reduce the salt; that is an important preservative.
3kg firm, green mangoes
200gms garlic (peeled, or not)
1 katori rai (mustard) seeds, ground
1 katori red chilli powder
50gms methi (fenugreek) seeds, ground
1 1/4 katori salt
1 t hing (optional)
1 liter sesame oil
Immerse the mangoes in pot filled with tap water. Scrub, rinse, and pat dry. Slice off the stalk-end and cut into 3/4″-1″ dice. Spread on a towel and allow to dry for a few hours. Heat oil so that a seed of mustard thrown in splutters immediately. Cool. Mix all ingredients together in a non-reactive bowl and transfer to a sterilized glass or earthenware jar. Mix the pickle every couple of days for the first week.
Taste for salt. If you notice any bubbles, add more salt. The pickle is ready to eat right away but the flavours take a few days to meld. It lasts forever but keeps getting softer as it sits. The pickle tastes best when still crunchy so refrigerate if you are planning to store it for a long time to slow down the maturing process.