Saturday, March 21, 2009

1001 Simple Indian Pickles

Pickles are food preserved in an edible liquid. Microorganisms / enzymes in food cause it to spoil fast. The goal of all pickling is to retard the microbial / enzyme actions.

Dry Pickles : Foodstuff is mixed with pickling powder. Salt in pickling powder draws out moisture from food stuffs, reducing spoilage. Anti bacterial and antifungal mustard, fenugreek and chili powders are often added, which retard the spoilage even further. Often, foodstuffs are sun dried for a few days before being pickled, which makes them last longer.

Pickling with salt / sugar Foodstuff is mixed with salt, which draws water from the inside of food. The increased salt concentration also inhibits microorganism activity.( E.g. Tamil Vadumanga Jap Shio-zuke ). Sugar acts in the same way.( E.g. Gujarati Chundo, Relish).

Pickling with acids. Foodstuffs are steeped in acids like soy sauce/ wine/ vinegar / lemon juice / tamarind/ miso , which slow down the action of microbial / enzyme actions ( E.g. Most western pickles, Japanese shouy-zuke , Shouy : Soy ; Zuke : Pickle).

Pickling by fermentation. Foodstuffs are mixed with salt, which draws out the liquids. This liquid is allowed to ferment under controlled conditions, which acts as a preservative. (E.g. Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Japanese Nuka-zuke).

Pickling in oil. Oil seals out air and prevents the entry of micro organisms. But, there is a class of microorganisms which thrive in the absence of air. So, anti microbial powders like mustard / fenugreek / turmeric are usually mixed in. (E.g. Most Indian Pickles). Honey / alcohol also serve as preservatives.( E.g Gulhkand : Rose petals pickled in honey)
Various combinations of these five methods are used across the world for pickling.

By following a few simple rules listed below, you can easily prepare fool-proof pickles.

1. Use fresh, unblemished vegetables.
2. Wash and completely dry vegetables, bottles and spoons.
3. Never use a wet spoon or your bare hands to touch the pickle. Even a tiny bit of water can spoil it. The goal of all pickling is to reduce the water content as microorganisms can thrive in the presence of water.
4. Aluminum, plastic or brass vessels react with the acid in pickles and should be avoided. Use glass / stainless steel / porcelain jars.
5. Sun drying the vegetables for a day / stir frying them removes moisture and makes them last longer.
6. Salt always has moisture in it. So dry roast it / dry it in sun for a day before adding it to the pickle.
7. Prefer sea salt as iodized table salt can make the pickle cloudy.
8. Sterilize the bottles before filling them with pickles. ( See below)
9. Fill the bottles almost to the top to reduce the amount of air sealed in.
10. Ensure there is always a layer of oil on top of pickle.
11. Once pickles are ready, refrigerate them to make them last much longer.

The more rules you break, the less time your pickles will last. Following all of them would result in a pickle which stores well.

 Sterilising bottles:  Fill a pan with cold water. Immerse the bottles and bring water to a boil. Boil for five minutes, remove bottles and keep them inverted in the sun till they are completely dry.


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