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Tulsi aunty’s Andhra-style ‘amla’ pickle (Photo: Nandita Iyer)
Tulsi aunty’s Andhra-style ‘amla’ pickle (Photo: Nandita Iyer)

How to cook the superfood amla

  • The Indian gooseberry or amla is fortified with antioxidants which makes it a potent superfood
  • Include more amla in your diet with these two clever recipes - an Andhra-style pickle and raita

Chewing raw amla (Indian gooseberry) and chasing it with a glass of water makes the water taste sweet. When we were children, this felt like magic. The adult in me went looking for a scientific explanation. It led me to a couple of them. The ascorbic acid or vitamin C in amla has a molecular structure similar to glucose and fructose. When diluted with water, it activates similar receptors on the tongue, making us experience a sweet taste. The other theory is that when we bite into amla, the initial burst of sourness pushes the salivary glands into overdrive. The enzyme amylase in the saliva acts on the starch component in amla, converting it into a form of sugar called maltose, resulting in the fleeting sweet taste.

Blueberries are at the top of every antioxidant-rich foods list. The antioxidant content is measured in oxygen radical absorbance capacity (Orac) units. Indian gooseberry has an Orac score of 261,500 per 100g, which is over 50 times that of blueberries. I hope that convinces you to make amla part of your diet. Amla pickle is one way to make sure you eat a little bit of this wonder fruit all year round.

I never thought of myself as the pickle-making kinds. For one, I am not a fan of pickles. And two, I do not have the patience to go through the stringent steps of traditional pickle recipes.

But last Diwali, a home-made gift hamper changed my view. My thoughtful neighbour packed a small jar of home-made amla pickle in the hamper to combat the sugar overload that happens during the festive season. A smidgeon of this pickle delivered an impressive flavour kick. On enquiring, I learnt that it was made by my neighbour’s mother-in-law, Tulsi aunty, a whiz in Andhra cooking. A bunch of us requested her to teach us how to make her amla pickle and she agreed, sending us the list of ingredients needed. We gathered in a kitchen with our notepads and ingredients. Tulsi aunty took us through the process in great detail, such that even a pickle ignoramus like me found the confidence to try this process on my own. The result was 4kg of the most wonderful amla pickle. I have tried to cram all that I learnt from Tulsi aunty into the recipe below. Deep-frying the amla draws all its flavour into the oil, which is used to mix the pickle. The result is a flavour bomb. If you try it, you will agree that this is the best pickle recipe ever.

TULSI AUNTY’S ANDHRA-STYLE AMLA PICKLE

Big-batch recipe for 4kg of pickle

Ingredients

2kg amla

1/2 kg tamarind (seeds removed)

1/2 kg red chilli powder (Use the Kashmiri variety for the colour and less heat)

1/2 kg salt

100g methi (fenugreek) seeds

100g black mustard seeds

3-4 tbsp asafoetida powder

1 litre sesame (gingelly) oil

For the tempering

20 dried red chillies

2 tbsp black mustard seeds

20 sprigs curry leaves

2 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tbsp urad dal

Method

Wash the amla and soak in salted water for 15 minutes. Drain, wash and dry thoroughly with a cotton cloth.

Place tamarind in a vessel and cover with water (about 1 inch over the level of tamarind). Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the tamarind is soft. After checking there are no seeds, grind it to a paste and keep aside.

Dry-roast the mustard and methi seeds separately until aromatic. Grind separately into powders and keep aside.

Heat 1 litre sesame oil in a large frying pan. Once the oil is hot, reduce flame to medium and deep-fry the whole amlas in batches until golden brown (colour of a potato) on the outside. This will take around 5-7 minutes per batch. Drain with a wire or mesh ladle and keep aside. Once cool enough to handle, deseed the amlas by pulling apart into halves or quarters.

In the remaining oil in the pan, fry all the ingredients for the tempering. Turn off the flame and add half the asafoetida. Allow this to cool.

To prepare the masala, take a large deep vessel, mix the salt, red chilli powder, mustard powder, methi powder and the remaining asafoetida. Mix these dry ingredients well.

To this, add the prepared tamarind paste and mix well and add the fried amla. Once the amla is well coated with the spice paste and the oil has cooled sufficiently, transfer the oil along with the tempering to this vessel. Mix all the ingredients gently but thoroughly, using hands, so that everything gets mixed well and the amla doesn’t get crushed.

Cover this with a muslin cloth and rest on the kitchen counter for three days. You can give it a stir once a day using a dry spoon. The amla will settle at the bottom and the oil will float up. If the pickle is too dry, heat 200ml gingelly oil. Cool and mix into the pickle. An oil layer above the pickle prevents it from spoiling and it will easily keep for a year.

Fill into clean glass jars and store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator.

‘Amla raita’.
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‘Amla raita’. (Photo: Nandita iyer)

AMLA RAITA

Serves 4

Ingredients

4-5 amla

1/4 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp salt

3-4 tbsp coconut

2 green chillies

1/4 tsp salt

2 cups yogurt

1 tsp oil

1/4 tsp mustard seeds

1 sprig curry leaf

Method

Pressure-cook the amla with K cup water along with salt and turmeric for 4-5 minutes. Drain the amla and remove the seeds. In a mixer jar, grind together cooked amla, coconut, green chillies and salt to a coarse paste.

Add this to yogurt and whisk well. Heat oil in a small pan. Fry mustard seeds and curry leaves. Once the seeds start to splutter, transfer over the raita.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

Twitter - @saffrontrail

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