Top 10 Achar Recipes
Achar is a word that is strongly etched in our childhood memoirs! Many of us remember the frenzy our moms and grandmas used to be in, when it was time to restock the pickle jars. As soon as the men and children were sent off to work and school, the women would get out the tarpaulin sheets or muslin cloths to sun-dry the tomatoes, lemons and mangoes, clean the chillies, hand-pound the spices, and busy themselves making achar for the whole family to enjoy. Summer, especially, was considered an ideal time to make pickles in bulk because the Sun cooperated completely, and the dry atmosphere reduced the risk of the pickles getting moldy during the curing period. Some pickles like the Amla Murabba, however, are made in the winters. It depends on when the seasonal ingredients are available.
How Achars used to be stored
Kitchens in those days used to have a small ante room, in which enough pickles were stored to last a whole year. The pickles were usually stored in large earthen jars, often as tall as a small child, with a cloth daintily tied over the lid to prevent dust or insects from getting in. The jars were breathable and kept the achar fresh for a long period, often a year or more! Many of you might have followed your mom into that room, on her expeditions to stir up the pickles or restock the smaller serving jars, because the room had a mystique about it, with the large jars and the enticing aroma of spices.
Times have changed, and we often buy pickles from the supermarket, but still the charm of homemade achar has not changed. Ever so often, we find ourselves drooling at the mere thought of homemade Lehsun ka Achar or Tamatar ki Launji! Achar making is a pleasure even today – in fact, it can be a great stress-buster amidst our busy schedule because it takes us on a jolly trip down the spice route.
There are pickles to match every need. When you are in a rush, instant pickles like the Carrot Pickle or the Bhindi Til ka Achar come in handy. These are easy to prepare, but make tongue-tickling accompaniments for Chapati and Paratha. As is expected, instant pickles must also be consumed instantly. You can, however, store them in the refrigerator for 2-4 days. However, when you have the luxury of time, you must try making traditional fare like the Punjabi Aam ka Achar, which requires sun-drying and curing. Since the moisture is removed from the fresh ingredients, sun-dried pickles tend to last for a long time, so you can opt to make larger batches of these.
Some spicy parathas taste best with sweet pickles! Sugary achars like the Sweet Lemon Pickle, Amla Murabba or Grated Amla Murabba work best for this. You will be surprised to see that many of these sweet pickles have no oil in them, but still they stay fresh for a long time, often up to a year, even without refrigeration! The sugar syrup acts as the preservative.
There are other pickles that fall somewhere between the just-mix instant ones and the long-process ones, like the Methi ki Launji and Tamatar ki Launji. These require a bit of cooking, but can be had immediately on preparation. You can look at it this way – here, cooking does the job of curing – helping to soften the ingredients and enabling the flavours to fuse. Even in this case, some recipes like the Methi ki Launji turn out to be quite simple, thanks to modern cooking equipment like the pressure cooker!
Oh well, as we said, times have changed. Long processes might have become short. Large earthen jars might have become small glass containers. Store rooms might have become shelves. Still, the charm of traditional homemade pickles remains evergreen, and lucky are those who have an opportunity to learn, enjoy and pass on this age old art of pickling. Achar, after all, is an indispensable accompaniment to any meal, be it a full three course fare, or a comforting meal of Moong Dal Khichdi and Curds! Parathas and Rotis, of course, would never be themselves without a couple of pickles to match! Sweet or spicy, quick or cured, sun-dried or salt-soaked, take your pick and make your own – because that’s the best way to enjoy achar.