Thursday, June 4, 2015

My nani’s achaar – Pakistani-styled vegetable pickle

Before the arrival of mass produced, ready to use jams, pickles and chutneys, everything was prepared at home.

In the early 80s, my nani- (maternal grandmother) prepared achaar (pickle), murabbay and chutneys at home ritualistically. These homemade products were consumed around the year and our friends and family also had their fair share in the prized produce. This activity would take place during summer holidays, when tons of extended family would be over.

Nani, her sister, sisters-in-law and other female cousins visiting her, would divide the work of cleaning and chopping up tons of vegetables along with cleaning, roasting and grinding of a sack load of spices. Rock salt was bought and crushed at home in a gigantic brass pestle mortar called a hammam dasta. Dried haldi (turmeric) rhizomes/roots were crushed to make powder at home. Large martabans (clay pots) were bought and seasoned for the pickling process. Fresh mustard oil was ordered from nani’s trusted teli (oil-maker). Mustard oil was prepared for use on an outdoor wood-fire stove.

Pickling involved tons of work and working together allowed these women to bond and share their issues, stories, and happy moments. During these moments, nani would find out about domestic issues and offer help, advice and intervene if needed. Nani being the oldest daughter-in-law, kept her and her husband’s family together, which was a rare trait of hers.

This year I decided to make nani’s traditional pickle at home which was my first attempt of pickling. I had help from my cook, hence the process was smooth. My produce also has a share for my mother-in-law and aunts who are anxiously waiting for it to be prepared. I hope I can continue to do this every year.

To me, this activity is therapeutic and my own way of connecting to a woman I loved and didn’t get the chance to know as much as I would have wanted to.


Lemons – 12 (quartered – remove the seeds)

Fresh green chillies – 20 long ones (make a lengthwise slit)

Carrots – 4 medium (cut them like match sticks, but thicker in size)

Green mangoes – 6 (cut in chunks)

Fresh curry leaves– 24

Garlic – 2 bulbs (peeled)

Mustard Oil – 6 to 7 cups


Fennel seeds (Saunf) – 2 tsp heaped

Nigella seeds (Kalonji) – 3 tsp heaped

Mustard seeds (Rai Dana) – 3 tsp heaped

Fenugreek seeds (Methi Dana) – 3 tsp heaped

Crushed red chillies – 3 tsp heaped

Turmeric (haldi) – 1 tsp

Salt – 10 tsp heaped


1. Prepare the mustard oil

2. Pour the mustard oil in a deep sauce pan.

3. Put three cloves of garlic with skin in the cold oil.

4. Boil the oil at high heat for 15 minutes. This is done to eliminate the natural bitterness and the dense smell of the mustard oil. Ensure that the kitchen is well ventilated as you boil the oil. It will release tons of smoke and unpleasant smell so be prepared. It’s a good idea to exit the kitchen as it boils and come back to the kitchen to switch off the stove. Light some extra candles in the kitchen as you undertake this activity. I would not suggest doing this if you live in a flat with open plan kitchen as the house will smell of oil for days.

5. Cool the oil. Put aside.

6. Prepare the vegetables

7. Cut all the vegetables as instructed.

8. Mix all the spices and spread evenly over the vegetables. Use a glazed clay dish or a high grade plastic utensil for this activity. Grannies advise not to use any metal utensil in pickle making as the acid from the lemon can corrode the metal leading to the pickle going black and bad in days ahead. I have used clay pots and a wooden spoon to do the mixing.

9. The spiced vegetables need to be put in sun for about two to three days till their water dries up.

10. On the third day, add the vegetables to the big clay pot and pour the cold mustard oil over the vegetables till everything is completely submerged in the oil.

11. The pickle is required to be put in sun daily for about 10-15 days in the summer and 15-20 days in the winter before the vegetables become soft and ready for consumption. Mix the pickle daily with a dry wooden spoon.

12. Everyone has their own favourite things to eat with this condiment. I enjoy this with daal chawal (curried lentil and boiled rice)

Happy pickling!

All photos: Ambreen Malik

This post originally appeared here.

from The Express Tribune Blog

No comments:

Post a Comment