I have the most amazing recipe to share today and I am bursting with excitement. Summer is officially the pickle and crunchy things making month back home. Come May, you would find women and (as it is in my family) men up in the terrace writing Vethal (the South Indian version of Papadum) with their wonderfully flexible wrists. Since ’tis also the season for mangoes, lemons and lush ginger, you would also find them relentlessly busy, making spicy pickles in the kitchen. My grandmother used to be the queen of summer food and my aunts and father followed her well-trodden footsteps. On the way, they made their own changes to the well-established recipes but during family get-togethers, they would always talk about Paati’s pickles.
The other day, I was out grocery shopping (what else is new, you ask me?) and stumbled upon wonderful ginger roots. They were juicy, fragrant and brazenly calling out to me. I had no other choice but to buy three gigantic roots of ginger. Don’t look at the screen like I’ve gone crazy because I had huge plans for the root. When I got home, I cut one of the gingers into huge chunks, sealed them in Ziplocks and stored them in the freezer (Rachel Ray, thank you very much!). I packed the other two in another Ziplock and put the bag in the fridge… because I was planning to use them soon.
Coming back to the story, while Aavakkai (a pickle made of raw mangoes, mustard and chili powder) was our all time favorite, we found space for gems like Mavadu (baby raw mango pickle), lemon and ginger pickle in our palate. One such pickle is the Puli-Inji (Tamarind-Ginger) pickle. It is a native of Kerala, one of the southern Indian states. Since my grandmother spent most of her teens in Kerala, she adopted the lifestyle, food, language and all, and was very proud of it. Hence, we took wonderful Kerala dishes like Avial, Eriseri and Puli-Inji for granted.
When I saw the ginger in the store, it struck me. I was going to make Puli-Inji. While this is a spicy little side-dish, I assure you that you will fall in love with it. You can always play with the quantity of each ingredient to make it less-spicy, more tangy, etc. I researched online, adapted the recipe from nearly five websites (Puli-Inji is famous!) and ended up with my own. So here we go:
Two and a half cups of ginger (One huge head of ginger yields that much), peeled and roughly chopped
Five Thai chilies (this makes a very spicy pickle)
One Tbsp tamarind pulp (Indian store, it comes in a bottle. That is the easiest way to deal with tamarind)
One cup water
One tsp salt
One and a half tsp chili powder (again, spice quotient will be high so this is optional)
Three Tbsp jaggery (this is the Indian substitute for sugar. Has high iron content. It is easily available in Indian grocery stores. If you don’t want to buy it, use brown sugar), grated
One tsp mustard seeds
A few fenugreek seeds (Indian store again but this is optional. These seeds are very bitter and used sparingly in Indian cooking)
A few sprigs of curry leaves
Half cup oil (I used sesame oil because I love the taste. You can use any oil other than olive. And don’t worry, we will not use all that while cooking)
A shake of asafoetida
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottom pan. When it is hot enough, add the ginger pieces and fry on medium-high. When it turns golden brown, with darker brown edges, add the chilies and toss once. Switch off the heat and scoop the fried ginger and chilies out. When cool enough to handle (I gave it an ice water bath), grind it smooth in the mixer. Discard half the oil. Heat the oil again, add mustard. When it starts to pop, add the fenugreek seeds, curry leaves and the asafoetida. Now add the ginger mixture, salt and chili powder (if using). Dissolve the tamarind pulp in the water and add it to the mixture along with jaggery.
When the mixture starts to boil, turn the heat to medium-low. Let the pickle cook until the water is 80% absorbed and the oil separates from it. Switch the heat off, check for salt and let it cool. Transfer to a container, seal it and store in the refrigerator.
What can you eat this with, you ask me? Use it as a spread, dip, add a little water to two tsp of the pickle and marinate veggies or meat. Use it as a glaze for not-so-sweet dessert. Go crazy!