The pickle platter of India

The Gujarati pickle platter by Shimul Shroff.  (Sheetal Bhatt)
The Gujarati pickle platter by Shimul Shroff. (Sheetal Bhatt)


It’s May, the ideal month for pickle-making, with mango, lime, jackfruit and bayberry in abundance. Lounge brings you pickling ideas from across the country

Precious is the word that pickle maker Inderpreet Kaur Nagpal uses to describe a lemon pickle made from a family recipe 28 years ago when her daughter was born. At the time her husband said, “Let’s do this..."

They decided they would taste it on their daughter’s wedding day—that day will arrive in November, and Nagpal is looking forward to both the occasion and the taste of the well-aged pickle. Everyone has a memory or a story such as this that reveals the myriad ways in which pickle adds spice to Indian life.

Right now is the season for pickling mangoes in most parts of India. Raw mangoes are grated and mixed with sugar for Gujarati chundo, cut into chunks and coated with mustard powder for Andhra avakaya, and sun-dried to make quintessential Punjabi pickles.

Other seasonal produce such as unripe jackfruit, tender lime and mouth-puckering bayberry get the pickle treatment too. There are 1,000 pickles from across India chronicled in Usha R. Prabhakaran’s definitive book on achaar, Usha’s Pickle Digest (1998). It has minute details about how to select and chop fruits and vegetables for pickling as well as reuse leftovers, with each recipe tested at least thrice. What’s missing in the book are meat and seafood options as Prabhakaran is vegetarian. Even so, the information is astounding. The author shares granular details of pickling and storing: “Choosing a suitable environment for fermentation with temperature between 70°-75°F is ideal. At this temperature, it will take about 3-4 weeks for full fermentation. Glass jars are ideal, especially during this season, for storing pickles. Traditionally, Indians have always stored pickles in a bharani. These jars are lead- and cadmium-free, ensuring they are completely safe for use with your food."

This season is considered ideal for pickle-making not just due to the availability of ingredients, but also the abundance of sunlight and low humidity before the arrival of the monsoon. Shimul Shroff, a pickle maker from Ahmedabad, is busy preparing at least 700 kilos of Gujarati athanu, which she ships across the world. During the pandemic, in an attempt to popularise athanu, she assembled a pickle platter with brie, cheddar, khakra, chundo and methi no masalo (a Gujarati spice mix), and created pickle hampers, similar to chocolate hampers, as a gifting option.

To understand how to serve pickles innovatively, as Shroff has, instead of limiting them to just an accompaniment to rice and curd or dal, focus on the flavours. Pickles are divided into three broad taste profiles, and the Parsis have a catchy description that reads like a rhyme: Khatoo, mithoo, tikhoo, which translates as sour, sweet, spicy. Consider regional specialities from the different communities of India and you’ll find they fit these flavours—the sweet and rich Sindhi murraba, the fiery ghost chilli or bhoot jolokia pickle of Assam and the tangy gongura pachadi of Andhra Pradesh. These classics neatly segmented into different taste profiles can be eaten with khichdi, used to liven up sandwiches or served in a cheese platter. Last month, Australian chef Gary Mehigan shared a story on Instagram of pairing a pickle with dosa and a runny egg. It was from the brand Pickle Shickle, which recommends pairing achaar with tacos, Maggi and pizza.

Like cheese, wine and coffee, it is time to understand pickles through terroir, technique and ageing. Food consultant and author Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal has been documenting the pickles of India since 2018. She spotlights the difference between Indian and Western pickling techniques. In the West, pickling involves salt, brine and vinegar. In India, some pickles use these methods, but regional cuisines are influenced by climate, geography and eating habits. “A large part of our country’s climate is tropical and sub-tropical, with food being prone to microbial intervention. If this is uncontrolled it causes spoilage, but if it is harnessed and manipulated, it allows for fermentation. Indian pickling traditions use the natural fermentation process in varied ways," explains Ghildiyal. Another unique aspect is the use of spices in India, like mustard and fenugreek seeds, to activate fermentation, balance flavours and infuse digestive properties.

India’s pickling calendar is tied to heat and dry weather because moisture is an anathema to achaar. While most regions in the north, west and south make pickles in early summer, in Assam, winter, being drier, is the opportune time to prepare sweet and savoury pickles of jujube and Indian olive. Bring a variety of these pickles home, and go beyond roti and paratha pairings to get that umami kick.

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Sweet and sour flavours of Gujarati athanu

Shimul Shroff’s ‘khattu methiyu athanu’.
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Shimul Shroff’s ‘khattu methiyu athanu’. (Sheetal Bhatt)

Vanraj is the king of unripe mangoes, says pickle maker Shimul Shroff. Every year, the Ahmedabad-based entrepreneur makes hundreds of kilos of Gujarati pickles with this prized mango variety. There’s chundo, gol keri (jaggery-based cubed mango pickle) and the rare champakeri (cooked syrupy sweet-sour pickle made with finely chopped mangoes), among others. She takes orders, from around the world, on Instagram (@shimulspickles) and sells out within days.

End April to early May is Gujarat’s peak pickle-making period. The fruit markets in Ahmedabad turn green with unripe mangoes piled in wicker baskets. A sharp knife attached to a wooden board sits beside them to chop and slice the fruit as per the buyer’s preference. The pieces need to be uniform so that each is evenly fermented and softened, and they retain their texture for as long as they are stored. Pickles, especially mango ones, are integral to Gujarati cuisine, and each step needs careful attention for the perfect outcome.

“We work with the energy of the sun," explains Ahmedabad-based Sheetal Bhatt. She documents Gujarati micro-cuisine on her website There’s a narrow window of 14-20 days during this time of the year when the sun is just right for fermenting, and there are no clouds. “In fact, the moment clouds appear, we know the chundo won’t cook (ferment in the sun)," she adds. Even the wind plays a significant role. If dust-carrying winds start to blow, the chundo will be ruined. She speaks of the weather with concern—the rise in temperature brought on by climate change has made it challenging to accurately predict the weather that plays a key role in the preparation of this beloved item.

Apart from mango, there’s lasan chana methi (garlic, black gram and fenugreek), gundo (gumberry) and garmar (coleus root) unique to Gujarati cuisine. Although these pickles don’t have mango pieces, the king of fruit isn’t completely missing from their preparation. The lasan chana methu and garmar are soaked in a brine of sour mango water. There’s another sweet-sour pickle, raiti, made with mustard, mustard powder, jaggery, peppercorns and dry dates that is left to mature in sour mango brine. “It is little known outside our community and is a hot favourite," points out Shroff.

The spice box of Gujarati pickles must have mustard seeds, split fenugreek, red chili powder and asafoetida as essential ingredients. “The chilli powder is a blend of resham patti (chilli) and Kashmiri. We are very particular about this because it adds the reddish hue, and our pickles need to maintain the colour through the year," says Bhatt.

Mustard oil is used only for pickling, and not for other Gujarati preparations, as it is believed to be a natural preservative. There are two distinct flavour categories, khattu ane mithu (sweet and sour), that elevate theplas and dhoklas. While chundo and gol keri are mithu, the khattu methiyu (a mango pickle made with the beloved methi no masalo) is the quintessential Gujarati sour pickle. Its oil and masala are spooned out of the jar and used to spice up dals as well as handvo (steamed savoury cakes). Borrowing inspiration from this practice, use pickle oils and masalas to spice up Turkish eggs, mix into dips, and to accompany cheese platters.

Sindhi pickles as great travel partners

Deepa Chauhan's 'gathri' pickle.
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Deepa Chauhan's 'gathri' pickle.

Bheendi is the Sindhi word to describe a woman’s bun with wisps of hair trailing from the end. It’s also the name of a pickle made from grated mango and tightly packed into a small muslin cloth, resembling the hairdo. Sindhi chef Deepa Chauhan speaks of it fondly: “This pickle is also known as gathri (bundle). It’s a clever trick to portion food by making it easier to carry." An enterprising trading community, many Sindhis travelled long distances on ships, trains and camels in the past and carried food that would not spoil easily. The gathri is an example of culinary inventiveness.

Like the Parsi khatoo-mithoo-tikhoo, Sindhi pickles have a trifecta of flavours. There’s tikho for spicy, khatain for sour, and murbo for murabba or sweet pickle. The golden yellow gathri is a fine balance of tikho and khatain imbued with the heat of whole peppercorn while the sourness of raw mango is rounded off with punchy mustard oil. It is a perfect accompaniment to roti, paratha and thick Sindhi kokee (parathas stuffed with onion and carom seeds). It is a signature delicacy made in summer to last through the year. Chauhan says that summer pickles are traditionally oil-based and those made in winter—turnip is a favourite—are lacto-fermented in water. She traces her origins to Shikarpur in the Sindh province of Pakistan, the pickle capital of that country. Her uncle had a pickle factory there, which was relocated to India post Partition and shut about a decade ago. Now, Chauhan makes pickles at home or buys from the brand Sindh In a Jar. She also recommends, which specialises in Sindhi delicacies.

She explains how extra salt or sirka (vinegar) is added to control the fermentation. Key ingredients such as whole peppercorn or fenugreek accelerate fermentation, while vinegar retains the colour. Fennel seeds are added to balance the heat and infuse cooling notes.

Another summer pickle is the chunky aam khatto (sour mango). The greenish-yellow pickle has cubed mango pieces which take time to soften. “Chunky pickles like this one are sun-cooked and fermented for longer," she explains. The sour mango is mixed with coarsely ground fennel seeds, nigella seeds and mustard seeds and is a tad less oily than gathri. “Back in the day, when schools had no air-conditioning, it was packed in tiffins for children. It’s not a chilli-heavy pickle, perfect for school meals."

Karonda (Carissa carandas), a berry-like fruit bright with sour notes, also goes into pickles. In fact, there are a variety of sour pickles, including nimboo khatain (water-based sour lemon), basar ji khatain (water-based sour onion) and ghohrun ji khatain (water-based sour turnip). These are lacto-fermented in water during winter when the sun’s heat isn’t potent enough to cook them. Chauhan says Sindhis can’t do without garlic and it is pickled on its own or goes into other achaars. Another quintessential Sindhi ingredient is bhee (lotus stem), which is added to mixed pickles. The sweet murbo or murabba is made with mango and amla (Indian gooseberry), sweetened with sugar and spiced with cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaves. Some mix in cashews and almonds too. It sounds like the Christmas cake of pickles.

Drawing out the heat in Tamil Nadu

‘Mahali kizhangu’ curd pickle.
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‘Mahali kizhangu’ curd pickle. (Deepa S. Reddy)

In Tamil Nadu, the pickling season arrives early—in March. “During this time vadu manga (tender baby-sized mangoes) and other varieties like kili mooku, rumani and malgova enter the market," says Usha Prabhakaran. By mid-May, mangoes begin to ripen, announcing the end of the summer pickling season.

In later months, the pickles get more interesting. Post monsoon, when mahali kizhangu (Decalepis hamiltonii) roots become available, they are pickled with curd spiced with chilli, mustard, turmeric and lemon juice. It is an ingredient believed to have several medicinal properties that aid digestion and fight infection. There is, however, a threat to mahali kizhangu, a forest food, due to over harvesting for commercial reasons.

Deepa S. Reddy, a cultural anthropologist and researcher who runs the food website, writes in a post that mahali kizhangu is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as an endangered species. Its flavour notes are similar to nannari (Hemidesmus indicus) which is used to make summer drinks in the state. It is a challenge to harvest nannari and many commercial brands use mahali kizhangu instead, and sell it as nannari sharbat. Mahali kizhangu is also used to produce artificial vanilla, another reason it has been pushed to the brink of extinction.

Reddy’s deeply researched piece Mahali Kizhangu Curd Pickles ends with a recipe and appetising photos of the pickle and their preparation. She explains, “The use of curd is super unique. Curd ferments and spoils, but the marvellous thing about mahali kizhangu is that its anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties are so potent that absolutely nothing can rot in its presence. The sourness from the curd balances the rather unusual tastes of the root excellently." As with mahali kizhangu, gooseberry and turmeric are believed to have anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties, and therefore combine well with curd.

From November to January, beans enter the pickling scene with mookuthi kai avarai (clove bean) and chathura avarai (winged bean). There are other interesting options documented in Usha’s Pickle Digest. There’s mango ginger made in lemon juice with green chilli, fresh green pepper, sambar onion and gongura (sorrel leaves), a mainstay in the pickle platter of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. And if you’re looking to buy, and are good options.

Also read: Can two cups of curd a week help keep ‘sugar’ at bay?


The avakayas of Andhra Pradesh

'Gongura' pickle by RDP Foods.
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'Gongura' pickle by RDP Foods.

Just like the Tamil home cooks, Andhraites pickle nearly everything. April marks the onset of the pickling season in Andhra Pradesh. Apart from mango, pickles are made with garlic, gongura, seafood and meat. Meat and seafood pickles are especially popular in the West Godavari belt. Y. Suresh Kumar of Gopi Pickles emphasises the difference in the preparation of vegetarian and non-vegetarian pickles: For vegetarian pickles, mustard powder is used, but it is omitted in meat or seafood as it overpowers the taste.

Meat and seafood pickles notwithstanding, it is undoubtedly the mango pickle, known as mavidi or mamidi avakaya, that occupies centre stage. Chinna rasaalu, Tella gulabeelu and Kothapalli kobbari are a few of the mango varieties that are used. Avakaya gets its name from ava (mustard) and kaya (raw fruit or vegetable).

Cut green mangoes, mustard powder, red chilli powder and sesame oil are used to prepare this in April and May. “Mustard is a key ingredient. What differentiates this pickle from others is that a small mango is cut into six-eight pieces, with a part of the mango seed attached to each piece," says Sirisha Rani of RDP Food Products, an all-women enterprise in Proddatur, known for their pickles. There are several variations of avakaya, including pesaravakaya (avakaya with moong dal powder), menthikaya (avakaya with fenugreek powder) and neetikaya (avakaya made by grinding mustard paste with water).

As summer ends, yellow cucumber replaces mango. Known as dosa avakaya, its texture and flavour are similar to mango avakaya. It is moderately tangy, crunchier and a must-have at weddings, especially during winter. The spiciest of Andhra pickles are made with pandu mirapakaya, the fleshy red chilli with a sweetish aftertaste that is pickled with tamarind and salt. Some make combinations of pandu mirapakaya with gongura (sorrel leaves) or with chintakaya (tamarind).

The tangy and pungent gongura pickle made of the sour, red-stemmed sorrel leaves is a signature delicacy. The leaves are cooked in oil and tamarind juice for an hour and tempered with cumin, garlic and chillies. The two main pickles made with gongura are pulla gongura (with red chilli) and pulihara gongura (with tamarind). The gongura from Andhra’s Guntur region has a pronounced sour taste and is the most popular.

In Bhimavaram, in the West Godavari district, which has easy access to a variety of seafood, pickles with prawns and freshwater fish are part of the diet. A spicy Andhra-style prawn pickle, royyala avakaya, is a local favourite and is paired with rice. Another staple is the boneless korameenu or murrel fish pickle.

Apart from seafood, pickles are also made from mutton and country chicken (natu kodi). To remove moisture, the meat is pressure-cooked, fried in oil, and sautéed with ginger-garlic paste. Dry spices, turmeric, salt, red chilli powder and lemon are added and mixed.

It’s easy to see why the sheer range of pickles in Andhra Pradesh is what defines this cuisine.

— Mini Ribeiro

The tengas of Assam

Gitika Saikia's 'jolphai' (top) and bamboo shoot pickle.
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Gitika Saikia's 'jolphai' (top) and bamboo shoot pickle.

Summer is not the prime pickling season in Assam. “We make our signature pickles—bogori (jujube) and jolphai (Indian olive)—in winter because that’s when these grow," explains Gitika Saikia, who runs the home kitchen Gitika’s Pakghor (@gitikaspakghor) in Mumbai. While some families make a mango pickle in small batches, it is not unique to the region. “Even meat pickles are a new phenomenon in Assam," says Saikia, explaining that pork and meat pickles are an influence of the neighbouring states. The tear-inducing ghost chilli pickle spiced with yellow mustard seeds, the bamboo shoot with ghost chilli pickle, and bamboo shoot lacto-fermented in its own juices are products of the Assamese kitchen.

Since tenga, or sour ingredients, are a defining marker of Assamese cuisine, pickles are made with ou tenga (elephant apple), kordoi (star fruit) and noga tenga (green bayberry). Saikia points out that April-May is the season for bayberries, which have a short window for harvesting, and are therefore pickled in small batches. Mustard is the preferred oil and the bayberries are infused with coarsely ground panch phoron (a blend of cumin, fenugreek, brown mustard seeds, fennel and nigella seeds).

There is a growing curiosity about food from the North-East and pickles can travel long distances. White vinegar has come into the picture, added to extend shelf life. Pickles from the region are available on websites such as and “Earlier, perhaps 20 years ago, pickles were made in small batches just for home consumption," she says. Pickling is usually a form of preservation, which is contrary to the dietary habits of the Assamese, who depend on fresh produce. In the Assamese thali, pickle is rarely conspicuous.

Every winter, Saikia makes small batches of the sweet bogori pickle as well as sweet and savoury jolphai pickle. Both are occasionally eaten with luci (pooris) and rotis. At her pop-ups in Mumbai, she serves bogori pickle as a palate cleanser—a fine example of a modern interpretation of a traditional dish.

Punjab’s achaar menu

Inderpreet Kaur Nagpal's homemade 'achaar.'
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Inderpreet Kaur Nagpal's homemade 'achaar.'

Pickle maker and chef Inderpreet Kaur Nagpal prepares ricotta cheese at home with a twist. She adds a bit of oil from her homemade aam ka achaar (Punjabi mango pickle) and takes it up a few notches by mixing in some roasted masalas used in pickles. Her baba ganoush replaces olive oil with pickle oil. She serves these with homemade fennel-infused crackers for complementary flavours. With experiments like these, the Mumbai-based Nagpal is attempting to serve pickles in newer formats. She runs the catering brand Herbs n Spices, which also sells pickles. Her pickle menu lists Punjabi favourites such as hing ka achaar, aam ka murabba and aam ke gutli ki achaar, among others.

Nagpal was born in Punjab into a family that always made pickles from scratch. Punjabis can eat pickle anytime, she says, but the combination of foods is important. Dal chawal or khichdi is paired with mango or chilli pickle, aloo paratha is typically accompanied by aam ka achaar and makke ki roti with saag must be served with gajar gobi shalgam. These act as flavour bombs and are believed to be imbued with digestive properties. A Punjabi meal, therefore, is incomplete without achaar.

The 28-year-old nimboo achaar, which she will crack open on her daughter’s wedding day in November, is the most prized one in her collection. Aged pickles are “a thing" in Punjab and the north of India because they are believed to have medicinal properties that can cure several maladies such as a nagging cold or an upset stomach.

In Punjab’s Pathankot region, chicken and mutton pickles are equally popular. Nagpal says some have the meat on the bone and the pieces are chunky enough to substitute sabzis.

She has her own explanation for the demand for pickle made by independent makers who prepare achaar in small batches: “Have you ever eaten a good pickle at a restaurant? It is most likely you haven’t. Restaurants want you to order more, and if they give you a great pickle, you may not want to try different dishes. The tastiest pickles are made at home and by home chefs. These can be eaten straight out of the jar."

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