Tomorrow (Tuesday, June 17th) marks my final dinner collaboration with High Street on Market. I’m really gonna miss those guys, but more on that at a later date. Our last dinner will explore the fermentation techniques and flavors of India, which makes me very happy since Indian food has long been one of my very favorite cuisines! There are still a few spots available if you’re in the mood to eat one of the best meals of your life. Just call 215-625-0988 to reserve. And in honor of our last fermentation dinner together, I’ll share a new technique and a recipe with you today.
I also want to share some words of encouragement with you all. I tried some Indian pickles years ago, but I was a little freaked out by them. I had a different and less complete understanding of lactic acid fermentation than I do today, so they seemed unsafe at worst or just not fermented at best. Why would these sit in the sun? They’re totally not submerged, so how can the lactic acid bacteria be active? How is this not just immediately a pile of pathogenic-bacteria laden mush?
Well, a little bit of reading and a lot of confidence later, I know that these pickles are genius and that the science completely backs up the method. Isn’t it funny how people have been able to ferment without technology or a complete scientific understanding of the process for
Why I used to be freaked out
- While there is A LOT of spice powder in there, it isn’t exactly submerging the vegetables. They’re still hanging out, a bit exposed. Even with wetter vegetables, the amount of water they shed is negligible, so there is definitely exposed surface area. In the early days, I just knew that lactic acid bacteria were anaerobic, but I didn’t know the terms “facultative” and “obligate” as they related to bacteria. “Facultative” anaerobes are bacteria that do alright in oxygenated conditions, even if they might like it better sans O2. That term describes lactic acid bacteria. Obligate anaerobes are bacteria that cannot survive when oxygen is in the mix, and at least one very bad guy, C. botulinum rolls like that.
- Most of the early fermentation guidance I had mentioned something, somewhere about no direct sunlight. The justification I eventually gleaned was that the sun could make things too hot and both the heat and UV light could kill the good bacteria needed for fermentation.
Why it’s all good now!
- All that facultative vs. anaerobic stuff tells us that these pickles could potentially even be safer than normally submerged pickles, which need a few days to get acidic enough for total safety, because the botulinum bacteria has not a chance in the world to set up camp.
- The sun has a crucial role to play in this process. While oxygen in the fermenting vessel doesn’t actually bother the lactic acid bacteria a whole lot, it does do one undesirable thing: allow mold to grow. So if you’ve ever heard the expression “sunlight is the best disinfectant” you can apply that literally in this case. The sun isn’t going to kill your lactic acid bacteria but it will indeed prevent mold since mold is destroyed by UV light! My flight of fancy while making these pickles is to imagine generations of women making a variation on these pickles in wide open crocks for the past several hundred years.
- You add a bit of lemon juice after three days of speedy (because of the extra heat) fermentation as extra insurance that things are acidic enough to prohibit the bad guys. If you added it at the start, it might create an environment that was too acidic for the initial LAB to kickstart fermentation.
INDIAN-STYLE CHILI PICKLE RECIPE
Adapted from the hari mirch ka achaar recipe on VegRecipesofIndia.com
yields approximately 4/5ths of a quart
I had some idli on hand and the combo was divine! You can also serve these as with any rice or grain dish. They’ll also be on the cheeseboard at my next dinner party!
- 2 cups chili peppers (see above), washed, caps removed, chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 8 tablespoons mustard seeds, ground to a powder in a coffee or spice grinder
- 1.5 tablespoons coarse sea salt
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup mustard oil
- Grind your mustard seed into a powder and mix thoroughly with salt.
- Place your pepper pieces into a quart jar and add the powder. Mix thoroughly, or put a lid on it and shake it like a polaroid pitcha.
- Loosen the lid, just enough to let air/CO2 escape and place your jar outside in a sunny spot. Bring it in at night (or you know, if you forget, don’t) and put it back out the next morning. Repeat for a total of three days, stirring thoroughly each night when you bring it in, or at some point during the day when you think of it.
- The night of the third day, add the fresh lemon juice and turmeric powder. Stir or shake very well.
- Put it back outside for two more days, bring it in and shaking/stirring well each night.
- At the end of the last night, bring your sun pickle inside for good! Heat the mustard oil on the stove on high for approximately 5 minutes. Bring it back to room temperature (keep those bugs alive!) and pour over your veggie/spice mix. Stir well.
- Let it sit overnight at room temperature (inside!) and start tasting at 24 hours. The oil shouldn’t taste or smell “oily” when these are ready to eat; it should be infused with the flavors of the spices and peppers. It may take up to three days on the counter to fully infuse.
- Once they’re ready, eat them or store them in the fridge. I recommend scraping excess spice mixture from the sides down into the jar to give these added longevity and avoid mold.
Chili peppers – I’ve made this with a bunch of different chilis, and I haven’t found one I don’t love yet. You want to pick a thinner skinned chili and longer skinnier ones work best. I made a hot thai chili version that I like a lot and a green cayenne version that was divine. Hari mirch is a green chili and it’s not very hot. Although my internet research wasn’t conclusive, I believe it’s green paprika. If you can’t find hari mirch at your local Indian market, feel free to look to just about any other hot pepper variety. To get the most use out of this pickle, stay within that heat range, which is to say the not very hot range. If you do something a little spicier, come back tomorrow for a simple tweak that will make this more of a multitasked for lovers of the super hot.
A word on mustard seeds – I don’t recommend using powdered. Use fresh and grind them. There is no comparison in the flavor between the two, and I honestly didn’t think this was worth making with the pre-prepped mustard powder. Just my opinion, but it’s a strong one!
A word on mustard oil – Mustard oil isn’t commercially available as a food in US grocery stores (I think this is idiotic, so don’t get me started), but every Indian market I’ve even been in sells it with a label that says it should only be used as body oil, or something equally fun to read. I think it adds a ton to the tastiness of this recipe, but the original recipe recommends subbing sunflower or peanut oil if you can’t find mustard. Omit the heating oil step at the end if you make this substitution.