There was nothing humble about my Nani house. From the moment the doors swung open, the sheer expanse of it would have any guest swooning. The marbled Mandir room was on the right – a row of majestic idols, and high ceilings that resounded with the Gurbani – and to the left, an endlessly long dim corridor would lead to the stove. Propped up on the black marble thalla, I have watched the ladies of the house weave in and out of the kitchen talking, the sound of metal on metal, as food was cooked in huge aluminium degras for everyone. At the very end of the room there were an assortment of pickle jars- some the traditional tall and white-brown, while others were transparent glass. Some jars were lowered into the space between the railing and the ledge, where I would often hang around with my Archie double digests, looking down at the society garden. There were so many kind of achars now that I think about it, but the one I’d end up eating most through my childhood was our traditional sweet-spicy kutur ki achar, made of raw mango, mixed with tur Dal chawar. This was not my mum’s favourite by a long shot. She favoured the achar that Nani made during the winters- the one where all the seasonal winter vegetables were crammed together and the deep-red sweet, salty, vinegary water they’d pickle in, was her favourite to mix into plain rice and eat. “Tell your readers that it’s the only way I can get the twins to eat vegetables like cauliflower”, she echoes from behind as I write this. The achar’s ingredients are quite ordinary- seasonal red carrots, a very healthy head of cauliflower, small baby onions, lotus root and dried dates. We may occasionally add raisins or even fresh yellow haldi/turmeric to the achar pot. Any nuanced achar maker will tell you that achars are a deeply personal business and you have to go by taste when making it. But that said, I’m giving you a starter recipe to go by. If this does become a hit with you and your family, you can always memorise the recipe, improvise and make several batches of it.
A few things before you make the achar:
- The achar masala we use comes from our own Sindhi specialty stores, and you can find these stores in Khar (Mumbai) or you can take a look at this list to find a Sindhi store near you in India.
- Surka or acetic acid, the crucial ingredient in vinegar is available at general stores and you’re going to require just one tiny bottle cap, or two since the stuff is super powerful and your achar and you will reek of it for a bit.
Cauliflower 1/4 kg
Dry Dates 100g, smashed to stone it (you can also add 30g of raisins here in addition to the raisins)
Carrots 1/4 kg (seasonal red carrots work best here)
Baby Onions 1/4 kg
Garlic a few cloves, sliced (you can alternately use fresh green garlic)
Ginger 100g, sliced
Green chillies 100g, cut into big pieces
Lotus root 1/4 kg
Achar masala from a Sindhi specialty store 100g (if you can’t find it, buy the ready aam ka achar masala)
Surka or Acetic Acid small bottle, one to two bottlecaps, available at local grocery stores
Sugar 2 fistfuls
Oil 1/4 cup
Asafoetida 1 tsp
Salt 1 1/2 tbsp
Heat the oil and take it off the heat just as soon as it has warmed through completely. Add the asafoetida.
Mix all the vegetables in a deep vessel and add sprinkle over the achar masala and sugar. Add to this the one bottle cap of acetic acid and mix again. After the vegetables have been mixed, add in the oil with the asafoetida.
Keep the whole vessel of the achar out in the sun for 2 hours and then stir it up once more. By now the sugar will have dissolved completely and you will be able to taste and adjust as per your liking.
Decant the mixture into an achar bottle and again keep it out in the sun for a minimum of one day and maximum two days.