Sunday, September 04, 2022

Dill Pickles, and Jalapeño Achar, and Cowboy Candy

Condiments are the home cook's not so secret weapon. Jars and bottles lined up in my pantry and fridge door are nodding in agreement. Added to a meal or served with a meal, pickles and sauces transform everyday food, uninspiring leftovers and plain ingredients into something you can eagerly dig into. In the traditional Maharashtrian taat (thali or platter), two condiments are a must- a chutney and a pickle. Along with a small mound of salt and a half-wedge of lemon, so you can doctor up the meal to suit your tastes. 

Today in my kitchen in the US South, two types of pickles coexist in harmony- American pickles of cucumbers and other vegetables soaked in sweet/sour/salty/garlicky brine, and Indian-style pickles (achaar or lonche) which come in a breathtaking variety. Of the latter, mango pickles, mustardy green chili pickles, sweet grated mango chhunda, lemon pickles are typical favorites and I'll always have one or two store-bought varieties open in the pantry. 

Pickled cucumbers are popular everywhere in the US, often served as the default side to a sandwich. In the US South, pickles are A THING. Restaurants will often serve small plates of pickled vegetables as an appetizer- not just cucumbers but carrots, okra, onions and other veggies. My daughter has been a pickle lover all her life; when she was just two years old, her breakfast every morning for several months was a fried egg with a pickled okra on the side. 

When we drafted a summer bucket list in May, one of the items was "Make pickles". We weren't about to take on anything as challenging as canning, but refrigerator pickles could not be easier. The hardest part, honestly, was finding pickling cucumbers, which are seasonally available. (Pickling varieties of cucumber are less watery and more dense than salad cukes.)

We used this recipe and it worked beautifully. In fact, my daughter did all of the work of chopping cucumbers and garlic cloves and arranging them in clean jars with sprigs of fresh dill. Then we made a brine by boiling water and vinegar with some salt and a touch of sugar, and pouring cooled brine into the jars. Pop into the fridge and enjoy pickles over the next few days and weeks! We would have made this recipe again and again, but I haven't been able to find pickling cucumbers in the store. 

My former coworker and good friend T came to dinner one evening and brought along a bag of home-grown jalapeños- 24 beautiful specimens, plump and jewel-like. (I love the color of jalapeños so much that I chose this exact shade of dark green when we painted an accent wall in my living room last month.) I decided to make small batches of two different pickles with this haul. 

The first is the sweet kind amusingly called cowboy candy. I adapted this recipe and boiled some vinegar (a combo of apple cider vinegar and white vinegar) with sugar and spices like mustard seeds, turmeric, red chili powder, cumin-coriander. Into the syrup went slices of peppers to be cooked for a few minutes- they turn wrinkly and dull green. That's it- cool and refrigerate. The sweet-spicy peppers are a great addition to many dishes like sandwiches and tacos.

Cowboy candy- jalapeno slices added
to pickling syrup to be boiled

Cowboy candy atop deviled eggs

The rest of the peppers went into an Indian-style pickle or achar. I used this recipe and it worked beautifully, using ingredients that I already had on hand. Here the peppers aren't cooked at all, just tossed in spices, salt, lemon+vinegar for acidity and some oil. The resulting pickle is crunchy and perfectly balanced. I enjoyed it in countless meals of dal and rice, and in wraps and more. 

Jalapeño Achar 

(makes one jar)

1. Wash 12 fresh jalapeño peppers and set them on a dishcloth to dry thoroughly.

2. Make the pickling spice mix by toasting together the following for a few seconds: 
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds (methi)
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds (saunf)
  • 1/2 tsp. carom seeds (ajwain)
Let the toasted spices cool down, then grind them into a powder.

3. Heat 1/4 cup cooking oil. Add a large pinch of asafeotida and set the oil aside to cool. 

4. Juice 1 lemon, and add 2 tbsp. white vinegar to the lemon juice. Set aside. 

5. Assemble the pickle:
  • Slice the jalapeño peppers and place them in a large bowl
  • Add the pickling spice mix, 1 tsp. turmeric, 1/2-1 tbsp. salt (to taste) and mix together
  • Add the lemon-vinegar mix and cooled oil and toss everything together
  • Spoon into a clean jar
  • Let it sit at room temperature for several hours, then refrigerate and enjoy over the next month
My second batch of achar made just this afternoon-
about twice the quantity in the recipe

In my two previous posts on making versus buying, pickles fall more on the "buy" side than the "make" side, although I'll make them every now and then, like this quick carrot pickle. However, now I'm wondering why I don't make pickles more often! They are easy and fun to make and so good.

Are you a pickle lover? Have you made pickles at home?


  1. I was so confused to eat the American pickle - my desi taste buds couldn’t wrap their picky heads around it . I still haven’t taken to it as much as I love my Indian achar . I’ve never tried to make any - my mom and aunts are spectacular picklers and I’ve always been intimidated by the process ranging from selecting the right kind of mango or others to chopping them right , maintaining a sanitised environment to getting the spices right . But maybe it isn’t something to be intimidated by , but to be embraced as you say :) . Thanks for sharing your experiences .. also very curious to see your green wall

    1. I too find most American pickles too sour and vinegary and don't love them as much as I love Indian pickles. About pickling- the more elaborate process that you describe (which I too have fond memories of!) are more for the large scale pickles that are made to last many months or even years at room temperature. Refrigerator/quick pickles are easy to put together, made in small batches and consumed within a couple weeks to a month, all while being preserved in the fridge. That's much more doable and totally worth trying :) I'll post a pic of my jalapeno green wall one of these days for sure!

  2. Nupur, lovely post as usual 😊 my mom makes refrigerator pickles with carrots, tendli, cauliflower, green chillies, lemon juice, salt, and mustard powder.

    1. Hi Sujata- my mother did the same, when tender cauli and carrots were in season in winter! I'll have to make this soon.

  3. Such an interesting topic these pickles. I’m an ardent fan of all kinds of Indian pickles and love the variety of flavors of mango pickle you get as you travel the country. Punjabi mango pickle tends to be more yellow/green with mustard seeds while our maharashtrian ones are red. I find the Gujarati pickles have their own mustardy bitter flavors that are distinct in their own ways and love all pickles from the U.P. area. I have a special affinity for stuffed red chilly pickles too and I could write a whole essay on them ! They go so well with parathas. Anywho!
    The American pickles are a bit of a shock to the Indian system. Where is the oil and the spice ? Over the years I’ve come to love them too and they make a steady appearance in sandwiches and salads alike. I love their briny taste !! And there is such a variety too. I do spend a pretty penny on the ones I buy at Whole Foods because the dill pickles are a good diet food at zero calories. These days though the salt is too much for my body and I find I retain water easily if I eat too many. Oh the joys of getting older.
    I do like quick pickling of onions and carrots. Somehow I can’t stand pickled cauliflower. I remember doing an instant pickle a while ago for my tofu bahn mi sandwich. I love them in all kinds of sandwiches. Now I’m hankering for a loaded veggie sandwich on a crusty baguette. Yumm


    1. Archana- you have me hankering for a tofu bahn mi, and it is like 7:40 AM :D Truly, regional Indian pickles are such a delight. I was amazed to discover fiery Andhra pickles. My husband is partial to North Indian mixed veg pickles with the nigella seeds. Pickling truly is a great way to add flavor to simple bowl meals. One of my favorites is thinly sliced onions with vinegar, salt and red chili powder.

      I almost can't buy jars of dill pickles any more because my daughter will polish off the whole jar in one or two sittings!

  4. You should try fermented pickles. Mary's nest youtube channel has some. I make them with beets and carrots. Super delicious way to eat these veggies.

    1. Ooh those sound really good, Nikita! I'll have to try them.

  5. Nupur, I made the jalapeno achar after seeing your post and I can't stop sampling from the jar. The hot-sour balance is fantastic. Thanks for sharing.
    Is Cowboy Candy on the sweet side or is it mostly jot with a faint sweetness? I'm tempted to make it but can't imagine liking sweet jalapenos.
    Also, thanks to the reader who recommended Mary's Nest which is endlessly fascinating. I may make some giardiniera this week.

    1. Yay! Glad you liked the achar. I too love this pickle and end up eating some at almost every meal. Cowboy candy is sweet and not just sweetish- cooked in almost a syrup. But I highly recommend trying it, maybe a small batch with 5-6 jalapenos :) It is super tasty and the spice of the peppers and acidity of the vinegar balances out the sweetness.

  6. Huge pickle lovers here and I make all kinds. Recently recreated the ("instant")pickle they serve at the Pittsburgh temple and it was simplicity itself.

    Kinda a spicy south Indian lemon pickle but without the sun drying,salting and umm waiting lol.

    Roughly the method was something like this:

    Boil about half a litter of water and let whole lemons boil for about 10 mins ( got about 10 giant lemons from a neighbour's tree when we were visiting family in the bay area, CA)

    Roast and grind dried red chillies.

    Cool and cut boiled lemons. Heat up half a cup of sesame oil and temper with red chilli powder, mustard, hing and fenugreek powder .

    Add the cut lemons and salt and mix into pickle.. it is lip-smackingly good.

    Yours look so good and nice you have a little spice girl at home lol

    1. Hi Janani- Thank you for outlining the recipe for the lemon pickle. Boiled lemons- I don't think I have come across anything of this sort and I will be trying it out for sure!! It sounds simple and flavorful.

      Yes, my daughter is a little spice girl and I love that she's an adventurous eater, much unlike her younger sibling.

  7. I'm going to try your cowboy pickle because I have some jalapeños! I recently picked up making red radish pickle from bongmom's instagram page, really simple: slice them in thin rounds, add to a clean jar with a green chilli or two sliced vertically, add equal parts acv and water until the jar is full, add a bit of salt. Shake. Pickle done! Love it with Indian food as well as on sandwiches, tacos and burgers.

    Indian pickles I make and love: a raw mango no-cook pickle where finely cut raw mango is mixed with salt, chilli powder and roasted methi seeds and finished with a tadka of rai and hing. I also love making maanga thokku - where grated green mango is tempered in gingerly oil with the usual seasoning and salt and chilli powder. I've made amla pickle (south indian style) and it's come out ok. However, my fav lime pickle is something I haven't been able to make a good version of.

    Apart from these, I love making thokkus, which are more relishes and not strictly pickle I guess- tomato thokku made in insta t pot. Look up reshkitchen's recipe if you're interested. My partner loves eating it with idli, dosa, appe. Ooh and I forgot to mention I love making apple pickle, cut finely and made the same way you make the cut mango one.

    1. Ok my, the red radish pickle sounds awesome, yet another pickle for me to try when I'm running low on my jalapeno pickle. I love how simple this is. Raw mango pickles are the very best, only I don't have access to raw mangoes here. Thokku is SO good! Friend of my mom's makes an amazing one with cranberries- it is loaded with sugar though, but entirely addictive. Apple pickle is new to me!

      Check out my blogger friend Manisha's old posts on lime/lemon pickles:

  8. Nothing like home made condiments! I regret to say I haven't made any for a while. I have tried simple pickled carrot and cauliflower but am not sure I have ever met a pickling cucumber - I do buy jars of them that I use occasionally - more in summer than winter! I suspect that pickling jalapenos would be a challenge for me with their spiciness but they are very attractive sliced up and just the name cowboy candy is intriguing.

    1. Hi Johanna, pickles are a huge thing here. And getting more and more popular with the prebiotic/probiotic trend. I also love the name cowboy candy :D


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