What’s the first thing that comes in to your mind when you hear the word – pickle? Apart from the last time you found yourself in one, of course. Ahem.
So depending on where you’re from you’re either thinking of little unripe mangoes chopped up, steeped in spices and oil, and left to ferment in the sun till they are soft and tangy and so so hot, and so so sour. Ditto with lemons, and green chillies, and everything else you can think of; Or, if you were born on a different continent, you are thinking of baby cucumbers, gherkins, radishes left to steep in vinegar, sweet and sour at the same time.
And if you were born in Kashmir, then, well, you are thinking exactly what I am thinking. Aanchaar.
What can I say about Kashmiri aanchaar. Well, first of all, it is the best achaar/ pickle in the whole wide world. That’s just a fact. (What? I am entirely objective. Ask my editor. Ahem.) Then of course you must know that there’s always this one family in your extended circle that makes the best aanchaar ever, and they dutifully send jars full your way every autumn.
And how can I not mention *baazruk aanchaar* (literally – of the market). A stroll down one of the main streets in Srinagar, and your nose will lead you to the aanchaar walas, sitting in a row, their big copper pots lined up in front of them. The reddest, hottest, sourest aanchaar, yours for a few rupees. I could never resist, even as my parents would remind me of the last time I bought some and completely ruined my stomach. I mean some things are just worth it.
Anyway, the point is, we are not in Kashmir, and even if we are, we are staying in and social distancing, so the stroll down Amira Kadal will have to wait. In the meantime we can make our own. Yep.
Important to mention here that when I called my mum to ask her how she makes hers, father jumped in and insisted he was going to talk me through steps. So for a change this is my dad’s recipe you guys. And true to form, poetry.
Vegetables – 1 kilo.
Any, really. But traditionally Kashmiri aanchaar has all the vegetables we love – monjje (kohlrabi), haakh (spring greens), carrots, radishes, lotus stems. Fresh green chillies. Also shallots, and garlic. Wash, peel, prep your vegetables like you normally would. Just try and chop everything to roughly the same size.
Mustard seeds : 1-2 teaspoons
Ajwain seeds : 1-2 teaspoons
Fennel seeds : 1-2 teaspoons
Fenugreek seeds : 1-2 teaspoons
Kashmiri red chili powder : 2-3 teaspoons (more or less depending on how hot you want it to be.I don’t like my aanchaar too hot, so you know.)
Salt : To taste
Oil – I’d say about 7 tablespoons, and a bit more at the end. But see how it goes, you want enough to be able to coat all of your veg.
So I’m assuming you have by now prepped your vegetables, yes? Great.
Now bring a big pan full of water to boil, (how big you ask? Well, big enough to hold all of your veg. Obviously), and throw your veg in. Yep, all of it. And just a bit of salt. Bring the pan back to boil – this will take a minute or two. And once that’s happened, turn the heat off, and drain the vegetables. The best way to do this is to use a colander/ strainer. Leave your vegetables in their for the next 30 mins to an hour to let the water drain completely. Once that’s happened, grab the the biggest tray you have, cover it with a kitchen towel, and spread the vegetables out in a single layer. What you’re trying to do is dry the lot out as best as you can. Leave to dry for at least a few hours, even better overnight.
That’s your vegetables all set. To be fair, you don’t *have* to blanch your veg before pickling, but it does make it better. (What? Dad says so. So there.)
Next let’s prep the jar/s. One jar big enough to hold all your veg, if you have one, or if like me you do everything on the fly and have to improvise improvise improvise, well then, an assortment of jars big and small. You know. So take your jars, wash them with hot soapy water and dry them thoroughly. Even better if you can sun dry them for an hour or so. But in any case, now your jars are dry, yes? Great. Now take some oil and brush/smear it all over the insides on your jar/ jars. Done? Good.
Remember that big pan you used to blanch your veg? Well I’m assuming by now you’ve washed and dried it, yes? Excellent. Now take that pan and add all of your spices and salt and oil in it. Mix everything up. And then pop all your blanched, dried vegetables in. And now the funnest part : getting stuck in there with your hands and making sure every little bit of your vegetables is entirely covered in the spice mix. Take your times with this. Rub the spices into every leaf, every piece of every vegetable. Don’t rush. It’s therapeutic. You’ll see.
Okay so now that that bit is done, all that is left is for us to fill the jars we’ve already prepped with our spiced vegetables. Ah, but it isn’t as simple as that now, is it. The path of true love never did run smooth, you know. Ahem.
Basically what we are trying to do now is pack the vegetables in as tightly as we can, so that almost no air is left trapped in the jar. So let’s fill, say one third of the jar up, and then push everything down as much as we can. (At home where you are making enormous amounts of aanchaar and the jars are huge this is usually done with those magical wooden utensils called tchhotte – ah.) Then repeat this till your jar is filled pretty much all the way to the top. Again push everything down, one final time – and, importantly, take your time with this whole process, because if the vegetables are not packed in nice and tight you run the risk of fungus developing and ruining your entire project, okay?
And just to be sure we are completely on top of this, pour some oil over the vegetables. This will seep into whatever little gaps there might still be, and then pool in a thin layer on top. This is what you want.
At this stage put the lid on. And that’s basically it. Now all you need to do is let it ferment, in a warm place – ideally a couple of hours in the sun every day – for about a week or so (depending on how hot or cold it is where you are). But listen, remember to put your jar/ jars on a plate/ tray while you leave it/them to ferment, because a few days into the process the oil will rise up and leak from the top. Do not panic when that happens. This is actually good, and tells you that you’re well on your way to amazing aanchaar. Okay?
So like I said, a week, maybe ten days, and that’s it – lovely beautiful aanchar, which you can eat with, well, anything really – or if you are like me, then on it’s own even. Ahem. What. Hah.