Last year, after years and years of procrastinating, I finally prepared my first batch of maavadu or vadu manga, one of Southern India’s most loved pickle. The pickle is made with immature green mangoes about half an inch to maximum two inches in size. The intent obviously was to not waste anything, not even fallen fruit. There are thousands of fragrant flowers in each inflorescence of the mango tree. Scores of them get fertilized into fruit but only a few will mature and ripen. The rest just fall to the ground. The mango is called Kalpavriksha or the wish-fulfilling divine tree for a reason. The immature fruits as well as the more mature but still tart green mangoes are used to make our most favourite pickles. Once the fruit matures, it takes on the status of the King of fruits.
This pickle relies on the salting of mangoes to release enough of the juices to create a brine in which the mangoes eventually cure and drown. While the basic process and ingredients were similar in all the recipes I searched a few did casually mention that a little water may be added in the beginning. Whether I was impatient or my arid-Delhi mangoes are drier than their humid-Southern counterparts, the lack of enough liquid to submerge the fruit caused me to add water. As is now the habit, I shared a few pictures of my process on Instagram. Not a single person there (among those who follow me) had ever heard of such a thing and I was certain my maiden attempt would soon be enveloped in mold.
I stirred the jars a couple of times a day and sent a prayer out with every turn of the hand. Much like spinning the Buddhist prayer wheel. The Universe was listening! At least Annapurna Devi, the benevolent Goddess of food and the patron of all cooks, the one my mother-in-law had called me an incarnation of on many an occasion, was and helped the pickle along. The slight effervescence subsided in just a day of stirring and the pickle lasted the entire year. As I prepare the next batch this year, an ambitious 5 kilos of it, I still have two shriveled pieces of tender baby mangoes, covered in salty, spicy delicious brine – just the dressing a bowl of thayir sadam begs.
Much of the batch is going to family and friends who declined my generous offer to share the produce and requested the pickle instead. Give them an inch… Such are friends. Since I do love the pickle to be juicy and I continue to be impatient (though I have improved a lot ever since I started on the Sourdough journey) I went ahead and added a little bit of water this time as well. It’s trending as lacto-fermentation these days. The bubbling has stopped already and has added beneficial microbes to our pickle to make it even better for our tummies. Guts, to be precise. I need to stir and watch the jars for another week or so and they will then be ready to be picked up.
If you have access to tiny green mangoes, use my recipe below to make your own jar of lacto-fermented maavadu. It is perfectly ok to use fallen mangoes but chose ones that are not bruised or cut and have the stalk-end intact.
Maavadu / Vadu Manga
(scale the recipe up or down as needed)
5kg baby green mangoes
100g red chilli powder (hot)
25g Kashmiri red chili powder
5og mustard seeds (black or yellow)
10g methi (fenugreek) seeds
50ml (approx.) sesame oil (optional)
2 cups water, boiled and cooled (optional)
Rinse and rub the mangoes dry. In a clean non-reactive bowl or jar layer the mangoes and salt, sprinkling salt generously over each layer of mangoes. Allow the mangoes to sit in the salt for 5-10 days, if you have the patience, till the juices are drawn out and the mangoes shrivel up.
Or, like me, prepare the spice paste on day 4. The salt may not have fully dissolved at this stage.
Roast methi seeds and half of the mustard seeds till they just begin to pop. Cool and grind together with the rest of the mustard seeds.
Heat the sesame oil and let it cool.
Measure out all the spices in a bowl. Add the brine that has leached out from the mangoes to make a paste. Add the salted mangoes to the spice paste and mix well. If you want lots of juicy brine then add one or two cups of water to the paste now and mix everything.
Transfer the mangoes to clean stoneware or glass jars taking care to distribute the brine proportionately between all the jars. Similarly, apportion the oil between the jars. Alternately, add the oil to the mix before transferring to jars.
For the next few days stir the contents of the jar(s) twice a day with a clean spoon.
The pickle is ready to eat when the mangoes have completely shriveled up and are submerged in the brine.
The mangoes will soften as the pickle ages. I prefer to refrigerate the pickle after some time so that it may retain a bite right up to the end. If you are making a small batch that will get over in a month or two you won’t need to refrigerate.
Best served with a bowl of thayir sadam all through summer.