May 20, 2021
Pickles are popular all around the world, from the lacto-fermented cabbage known as sauerkraut introduced by Eastern Europeans to the tiny, spiced cornichons the French adore. The word “pickle” comes from the Dutch word “pekel” or northern German “pokel,” meaning salt or brine, two very important steps in the pickling process.
Pickles have been around since 2000 B.C. when cucumbers, which originated in India somewhere between the Bay of Bengal and the northern Himalayas, were pickled in the Tigris valley. Throughout history, pickling was a necessity as it helped preserve food for a long time.
When a heavy influx of Jewish immigrants arrived in the United States during the late 1800s to early 1900s, they introduced kosher dill pickles to Americans. Cucumbers were washed then piled into big wooden barrels along with dill, garlic, kosher salt and clean water. They were left to ferment for a few weeks to several months then sold on pushcarts in the immigrant tenement district of New York.
The pickles I grew up with, in India were different. Salted green mango was sun-dried and pickled in a coriander fenugreek masala and preserved in mustard oil; lemons were pickled with sugar and chile; and when vegetables such as carrots or cauliflower were fermented in a brine, it was always with the addition of spices including turmeric and mustard.
With eggplants just appearing this spring, this pickle masala makes for a spicy coating — refrigerate it for up to three weeks. Enjoy it in small portions alongside meals or on top of toast with eggs or cheese.
Makes 2 cups
1 pound small eggplants
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped or grated jaggery
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
2 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
5 to 6 whole red arbol chiles
Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, sprinkle salt on the cut surface, and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Heat the olive oil and sear the eggplants with the cut side down on medium heat for a few minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Flip over and cook a few more minutes if needed to finish.
Heat the vinegar, jaggery, and garlic together until the jaggery has melted and mixed through.
To make the masala_ In a small frying pan on medium heat, lightly dry-toast the fenugreek, coriander, cloves, and peppercorns for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the chiles at the end. Sauté for another minute, then turn the heat off. Let the masala cool for a few minutes, then grind until smooth. Stir with the cooked eggplant along with vinegar mix. There should be enough masala and olive oil to coat all the eggplant.
Jaggery is a raw palm sugar sold in blocks at most Indian grocers — substitute with 3 tablespoons of sugar (jaggery is more concentrated than sugar).
This masala can be used for other vegetables, such as cooked carrots or cauliflower.
December 02, 2022