Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Mother’s Heirloom Whole Pickled Limes

I am hosting a get together this weekend. I like to pay attention to every detail. I think, it’s really the small things that make a big difference. Take pickles, for instance, they can enhance and glorify a meal. At my local farmers market I came across an abundant of luscious, plump limes. Walla! All I could think of was my mother’s whole lime pickles. My mouth started watering looking at the plump bright green limes.

If you think pickles are something only your grandmother would make and that they’re hard to prepare, then this recipe (I’m sure even my grandmothers would’ve agreed) will prove otherwise. Pickle is the soul of the Indian kitchen and, when it’s lovingly handmade, and passed from generation to generation like family heirlooms it is a perfect gift to the culinary world.

This oil-free, easy and straightforward preparation is my mother's 50-year-old recipe I’d like to share that with you. She makes it every year in summer for family, friends and neighbors. Preparation of pickles used to be an elaborate process involving a lot of attention. I can recollect mother plucked 500 plump juicy limes, right from her organic garden and carefully screened each one. Then they were meticulously rinsed and wiped with linen. Earthenware crocks of approximately 5-gallon capacity were cleaned and sun-dried. Plump, fragrant spices were hand picked and dried in sun. The choice of chile powder (cayenne) was very important. It was always freshly pounded and mother went a step further with her innovative mind, she mixed three to four different varieties of dried chiles to achieve a deep ruby-red color so the finished pickle attained a beautiful hue. The pickling process was carried out only on a bright sunny day to avoid moisture from the atmosphere. The care and love that went into the preparation was worth the time and effort. Mother made beautiful little baskets with bowls of fresh homemade pickles to all our friends, relatives and neighbors. Although I make these here in late summer when limes are large and juicy, each time I visit India I still get enormous refills of my mother’s handmade pickles.
These are lovely with vegetarian as well as fish and meat dishes.

2 pounds (10 large) limes
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ tablespoon mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ cup sugar
1/8 cup cayenne
¼ cup salt

1. Wash the limes and wipe dry with a kitchen towel. Slit each lime crosswise into fourths leaving ½-inch uncut at one end (similar to the 'X' you make while blanching the tomato, this should be a deeper ‘X’). Place in a large mixing bowl. You don’t have to remove the seeds leave them in for a rustic appeal.

2. Combine the fenugreek, cumin and mustard seeds in a small dry frying pan. Toast over moderate heat until aromatic and mustard seeds start to pop, shaking the pan frequently, about 5 minutes. Cool and transfer to a spice grinder or coffee mill and grind to a fine powder. Dump into a small bowl. Add the turmeric into the same frying pan and warm it on low heat for 1 minute. Add to the bowl. Stir in the sugar, cayenne and salt. Mix thoroughly. Gently spread the cuts open of each lime and sprinkle the spice mix between the slits. Place limes into a crock. Cover with lid and store in a cool dry place. Let the pickle cure for 3 to 4 days before serving. Occasionally give a shake, so the bottom pickles come at the top and the top ones move to the bottom. Shake the crock a couple times for about 4 to 5 days. Refrigerate after a week. (To be on the safe side I recommend refrigeration.) Makes about 3 cups

Variation – Chile-Lime Pickles
If you prefer, using gloves, slit 10 to 15 long slender fresh hot green chiles do not stem, (be sure to use the gloves), sprinkle some of the pickling spice mix into the slits and toss into the crock.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fresh Mixed Veggie-Yogurt Spread at Sprouts Cooking Club

Last week, I had the pleasure to teach children at the Sprouts Cooking Club in Berkeley. I believe they were between the ages of 5 to 14 years. The class was full with 18 children. Several adult volunteers supervised the kids. The class was held at the Whole Foods parking lot under a cozy tent. The Whole Foods Market supplied the ingredients for the class.

I was so impressed by the young children’s enthusiasm and participation. They were well organized with their cutting board, mixing bowl, small pots and knife. They cut the vegetables with great interest (of course, under adult supervision), so finely and in uniform pieces they would put us professionals to shame. I was told some of them were very good at mincing, dicing, and cubing. Best of all, they were proficient at rolling leafy green or herbs and chopping into delicate strips referred to as chiffonade. As they assembled the following mixed vegetable spread, we passed along slices of crusty bread. The little kids were even happy to enjoy it as a cool crunchy salad in small cups by itself. It was nice to see the youngsters enjoying wholesome mother earth’s bounty.

Use this light and easy mixed vegetable concoction as a dip or spread on crusty bread to make vegetarian sandwiches. You can also serve as a side dish salad for lunch.

2 large tomatoes
2 medium cucumbers, such as English, pickling (about 10) or regular
1 bunch red radishes
1 small white, red or yellow onion
¼ cup chopped cilantro
4 cups plain yogurt
2 teaspoons or to taste salt
1 tablespoon sugar

1. Core the tomatoes, chop finely and transfer to a large bowl. Peel and seed the cucumber; chop in half inch pieces and transfer to the bowl. Finely slice the radishes then stack and julienne the slices; transfer to the bowl. Peel and quarter the onion and slice thinly lengthwise; add to the bowl. Sprinkle with the cilantro.

2. Just before serving, in a bowl, combine the yogurt, salt and sugar. Beat with a fork until smooth. Fold into the prepared vegetables. Serves 6 to 8 as an accompaniment or use as a vegetarian sandwich spread.