One of the great things about a topic as diverse as chutneys and pickles is: just about anything works.
And here’s what I mean by ‘anything works.’
Take your favorite ingredient – I mean it, any favorite ingredient from cranberries and tomatoes, to garlic, fresh chilies and gourd – and pickle it in oil, vinegar, salt and spices to intensify its flavor…and you’ve got ‘pickle.’
Prefer chutney? Then simply cook down or temper your main ingredient with sweet, spicy & tangy touches to create one.
5 Good-to-Know Things about Chutneys & Pickles:
- They both need patience and time…not ‘your time’ – just time by themselves – to sit and pickle, or stand and cook.
- It’s rarely a good idea to eat a chutney or Indian-style pickle just as-is. Their key role in your meal is to ‘add’ flavor; hence always eat (and serve) chutneys and pickles as an accompanying condiment – as a spread, sauce, topping, etc.
- In Indian cuisine – chutneys vary dramatically, many being thin enough in consistency to be used as dipping sauces (especially the ones for south Indian rice-n-lentil Dosa crepe, and for Indian street food Chaat and Tikka.) Other varieties of chutney are like chunky well-flavored relish; those are generally used as meal accompaniments or sandwich spreads, and are the popular version found globally.
- The pickling base for many Indian pickles (called Achaar/Achar) is oil and salt, unlike water and vinegar based western style pickles. The process of making an Indian pickle (Achaar) includes tempering spices in large quantities of oil, prior to initiating the process of pickling.
Interesting fact: Back in India, pickles are created seasonally as fruits and vegetables grow in their natural abundance. You’ll find super-sized earthen or ceramic vats of pickles, topped off with oil, kept in a dark corner of an Indian kitchen pantry year-round.
- Any fruit or vegetable that is pickled or chutney-ed (is that a term?) gets intensified in its flavors, but still tastes like itself. The main ingredient in any chutney or pickle shouldn’t get overpowered by the flavors of salt, sugar, spices, vinegar or oil.
Examples: Pickled garlic should still taste like garlic – not vinegar or salt. And mango chutney must taste distinctly like mangoes, and not spicy sugar syrup.
Before I get to the recipe, this Sunday, March 8th, I’ll be cooking live on a food show ‘Savor the Flavour’ at 7pm GMT, 3pm EST and 12 noon PST. Do join in live or watch the recording of the show thereafter. Here is an invitation link to the show.
- 1 cup shallots, peeled, ends trimmed (alternately, use small sweet onion)
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar (or refined white sugar)
- 1 teaspoon salt (pure salt like rock, pink, sea or kosher works best)
- 2 inch cinnamon stick
- 3 whole peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ teaspoon ground red chili or Cayenne pepper (optional, for a spice kick)
- 1 teaspoon cider or red vinegar (white rice vinegar is also fine)
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- Soak the peeled shallots in cold water; this step helps if the shallots or onions are pungent.
- Bring ½ cup water to a boil along with sugar, salt, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, bay leaf and ground red chili or Cayenne pepper. Turn off the heat once the liquid has come to a boil.
- Off the flame, add the cider or red vinegar, and balsamic vinegar.
- Drain and add the peeled whole shallots (cut into smaller pieces if they’re too large) to the pickling base. An airtight glass jar works well for this process.
- Cover and leave the shallots to pickle refrigerated for at least a day (refrigeration maintains the crispness of the shallots.)
- Pickled shallots can be stored refrigerated in their pickling liquid, in a glass jar for 1-2 weeks. Over time the shallots will lose their crispness, but are still very much edible. (Tip: if you have leftover pickled shallots, add them to stews and curries for a delightful touch.)
- Serve Spicy Indian-style Pickled Shallots (without the pickling liquid) with sandwiches and wraps, kebabs and curries, or come up with your own ways to make them a part of a meal.