Vadu Manga – pickled baby mangoes in brine

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. Continue reading “Vadu Manga – pickled baby mangoes in brine”

Thayir Sadam – Curd Rice

It’s summer and the mangoes are maturing on the trees. The blazing sun keeps all of us indoors – it’s the sanest thing to do. Appetites are waning and you are perpetually parched.

“I hate summer!” you may be tempted to say. But then you remember the mangoes. And the phalsewala who has started doing his rounds. The trees of Delhi come into their own in the summer. The orange of the Semul in early summer has given way to the crimson of Gulmohurs and the trailing yellows of Amaltas.

In the North Indian plains, the mango blooms in early March. The inflorescence consists of hundreds of delicately perfumed flowers that bring the bees in droves. Naturally, not all flowers become fruit and not all fruits reach maturity. A large bunch will perhaps have a dozen mangoes at the most. Most of the fruit falls to the ground through the growth period. We (my Dad) have two trees of the Amrapali variety which grows into a luscious sweet fruit with deep orange pulp when it ripens in early July.  When it is green and immature it is tart enough to make a good pickle. But the tiny mangoes that make up the first lot of the fallen fruit end up in the compost pit. Continue reading “Thayir Sadam – Curd Rice”

Kohlrabi Pickle

I can’t have enough pickles it seems; the previous post too was on pickling. Pickling is cool (again) and you are likely to see a lot of talk about them. Lacto-fermentation is trending. Me, I’ve always loved a good pickle and the process of making a perishable vegetable last longer. Pickles are a great way to use the abundance from your garden where the entire crop of any one kind tends to ripen all at the same time.

Monjji anchaar, (L) Feb 2016, (R) 2018. Oh, how the monkeys have ruined my once-lush palms!

There is so much nostalgia associated with many seasonal pickles that the mere act of making one brings all those childhood memories flooding back. Kohlrabi, monjji to Kashmiris, is much more than just any vegetable to them. I am not exaggerating when I say that it is a reminder of our homeland, our homes with the kitchen gardens, our community, our market streets, especially now when we have all been removed from it. As for all people who have known exile, the longing for things that represent that homeland only gets deeper. Monjji anchar (kohlrabi pickle) might once have been that pickle found in every kitchen cupboard in Kashmir, but today, for many of us, it is a lot more.

As in desserts, the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine is pretty limited in its repertoire of pickles. We have just one recipe for pickling, only the vegetables get swapped. You may use kohlrabi or cauliflower. If you are feeling very rebellious you could go all out and use onions. Continue reading “Kohlrabi Pickle”

Bitter Lime Pickle

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find. Even in an extremely urbanised city like Delhi, with hardly any real wilderness left, you will be pleasantly surprised how nature escapes the boundaries we set for her. Plants like bathua (lamb’s quarters) and kulfa (purslane) are common enough. I even found a large patch of sotchal (common mallow) growing wild in Purana Qila one time.

Last year K, my house help, put before me a bag of citrus growing on an unoccupied plot in her colony that no one wanted and was only attracting monkeys and their destructive antics. It looked a lot like our santara, the regular Indian orange; the peel and sections were on point. But there was nothing orange-y about their juice. The juice was sour and bitter, in equal measure. Loathe to see beautiful fruit laid waste she brought me a few confident that I would be able to make something of them.

Continue reading “Bitter Lime Pickle”