Tuesday, February 27, 2007

This week: Pickles -- Ginger-Date-Green Chilli-Thokku

Here's is an unusual take on a traditional favorite -- "puli inji" or ginger in tamarind sauce. The recipe below, "Ginger, date, green chilli thokku" -- is a spicy, tangy, delicately sweet pickle that is an all-season winner, and is a thicker version of the puli-inji. In this updated version, the ingredients are minced to coarsely ground together prior to cooking. The intense spiciness comes from using the tiny, skinny, fresh, green or red chillies, the tang is from the tamarind, the sweetness is from juicy, plump, medjool dates. Other kinds of dates would do well, but you may have to use more depending on the size. If you don't like the idea of using dates, use a bit of jaggery (gur or vellam) for the sweetness.

The delightful flavor is from our favorite rhizome, ginger. Ginger is known to possess digestive properties and curative properties for the common cold and sore throat. I remember my mother preparing "Inji Sorasam" -- a perceived cure-all for all possible illnesses :). We would disappear from my mother's reach whenever we inhaled a mixture of fresh ginger root, coriander seeds, cummin seeds, lemon juice and jaggery or honey getting ground up together. I have developed a taste for this as I've grown older. It is a delicious medicinal paste. Try it sometime when you have a tummy-upset or a lack of appetite. Remember, not more than a spoonful or two, because too much ginger can cause heart-burns.

For this recipe, the ginger needs to be tender and not stringy.

Ginger-Date-Green Chilli Thokku

1.5 C peeled, minced or grated fresh ginger root
1/2 C fresh (raw) red or green chillies, stems removed
8-10 medjool dates, seeded
3" diameter ball of Fresh Tamarind (tight ball)
1/4 C salt or more as needed
2/3 C Virgin Sesame oil
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 tsp asafoetida powder (hing/ perungayam),
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 sprig curry leaves (optional)


1. Soak fresh tamarind in 2 cups of hot water for 15 minutes or so. Extract the pulp thoroughly and discard the pith, seeds, membranes. Filter liquid pulp and keep ready.
2. Coarsely grind green chillies with some salt.
3. Grind seeded dates coarsely.
4. Heat about 2/3 of the oil in a saucepan
5. Add mustard seeds, asafoetida, and turmeric powder
6. When the mustard seeds splutter, add the curry leaves, and almost immediately, the ginger paste, chilli paste, and the date paste.
7. Add the salt, and saute on medium heat.
8. Stir from time to time for 10 minutes.
9. Add tamarind pulp and bring to a boil.
10. Cook until the mixture reduces to about half the original amount, or until the oil separates and oozes along the edge of the pickle.
11. Add the remaining oil, stir for two minutes, and remove from stove.
12. Keep it open until cool.
13. Store in a clean, dry jar/bottle/container.
14. Refrigerate when not in use. Always use a dry spoon.


To serve: Serve with curd rice, idli, dosai, roti, upma, etc.; may also be used as a sandwich spread; may be mixed with yogurt to make raita, or with plain cooked rice and ghee for a quick rice dish.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tasty Traditions This Week: Pickles -- Mango Thokku

Hi everyone! Here is a simple and delicious mango thokku recipe. Mango thokku, also called thogayal maangaai, is a pickle prepared in kitchens in the South. When mangoes abound in the Summer, we prepare this pickle for the season. The thokku, properly stored and maintained, lasts for up to 6 months; I like to store my pickle jar/bottle in the fridge to retain its freshness.

A word about the mangoes for this pickle: the only kind of mangoes to be used are specific varieties of green/raw, mature, sour, mangoes. The sourness is a very important criterion, as are the maturity and the rawness. These types of mangoes may not be available all over the world (see picture -- these are fist-sized mangoes). In Tamil we refer to the mature, raw mango as "kottai mutriya maangaai," which means, green mangoes with hardened, mature stones (seed-shells).

Another word about the oil: If you want the amazing taste of tradition, DO NOT resort to any oil other than virgin sesame oil for this pickle (NOT the roasted sesame oil you get in Chinese stores). Virgin sesame oil has great properties and is very healthy when used in regular cooking. Idhayam, Anjali, are just some of the brands I am familiar with in India.

Yet another word about the chilli powder: There are many kinds of chilli powders available in the market. I usually get the long hot dry red chillies, and get it powdered in the mill and keep it ready (varattu podi). If you buy pre-made powders, ensure that it is both very spicy and has a vibrant red color.

Now the recipe.....

Mango Thokku


Green/Raw mangoes, peeled, grated -- 4 C (standard American measuring cup)
2" piece of dried turmeric root or turmeric powder -- 1 tsp.
Fenugreek seeds (methi or vendhayam) -- 1 tsp.
Asafoetida (hing or perungayam) -- 1/2" cube (or asafoetida powder, 1 tsp.)
Virgin Sesame Oil (nallennai) -- 1 and 1/4 C
Black Mustard seeds (rai or kadugu) -- 1 tsp.
Plain hot Chilli powder -- 3/4 C
Salt -- 3/4 C


1. Dry roast separately, the turmeric, fenugreek, and asafoetida, until fragrant. (Use medium heat so that these turn golden brown, and not charred black. The asafoetida will puff up if using unpowdered). If using turmeric powder, keep it aside for adding later.
2. In a non-reactive pan/kadai/wok, heat half the oil.
3. Add mustard seeds and wait till it splutters.
4. When it splutters, add the turmeric powder (if using), and the grated mangoes. Stir briefly.
5. Add the salt and chilli powder, and turn the heat down to medium.
6. Keep stirring from time to time. You don't have to cover the pan.
7. When the quantity reduces to two-thirds of the original amount, add the rest of the oil and stir for about 2-3 minutes.
8. Add the powdered spices, and stir thoroughly. Keep on the stove for a minute more.
9. Remove the pan off the heat. Keep aside uncovered until cool.
10. Store in a clean, dry bottle, and cover tightly.


1. Add 50 grams of peeled, finely grated, fresh ginger root with the mangoes.
2. Add 15 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced with the mangoes.
3. Add both ginger and garlic as above, and a little extra salt (1/4 C) with the mangoes.
4. Optionally, you may add 2 Tbsp. of powdered or grated jaggery (gur or vellam), along with the roasted spice powder.

NOTE: Always use a VERY dry spoon each time as any little bit of moisture can spoil the pickle. This can be used instantly. Serve with rice, dosas, roties, as a sandwich filling, upma, etc.

Happy pickling!

Vasi Maami