Indian Chili Pickle Recipe

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 centuries millennia?

Assorted pickles make a great accompaniment to rice of all kind (especially the fermented kind!)

Assorted pickles make a great accompaniment to rice of all kind (especially the fermented kind!)

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!

Just heading into the sun! Beautiful chilis bathed in mustard powder.

Just heading into the sun! Beautiful chilis bathed in mustard powder.

  • 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.
Add turmeric and lemon juice after 3 days in the sun

Add turmeric and lemon juice after 3 days in the sun


Adapted from the hari mirch ka achaar recipe on

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!

After 3 days of sun fermentation, your chilis should look like this. A little frizzled and damp. The spice mixture should have darkened a bit.

After 3 days of sun fermentation, your chilis should look like this. A little frizzled and damp. The spice mixture should have darkened a bit.


  • 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


  1. Grind your mustard seed into a powder and mix thoroughly with salt.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The night of the third day,  add the fresh lemon juice and turmeric powder. Stir or shake very well.
  5. Put it back outside for two more days, bring it in and shaking/stirring well each night.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Ingredient notes:

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.

Chop your chilis into 1 inch pieces.

Chop your chilis into 1 inch pieces.

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!

Green chilis and mustard. Key ingredients!

Green chilis and mustard. Key ingredients!

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.

Indian Green Chili Pickle or chile pickle


  1. Mark S says

    Those sound yummy!

    I think we need a “Phickle of the Month Club” where you pay $5/10/20 a month and receive one/two/three jars of your awesome recipes like this mailed right to your door. A pint of this… A quart of that… whatever is feasible. I do enjoy trying recipes (whether they are fermented or not) but I also enjoy being spoiled and having great food prepared for me. :) That would be a treat I’d be happy to pay for!

    • Amanda says

      They are quite interesting! I’m a huge fan of the pepper version and I’ve been working on a few other recipes in this style. Thanks for reading!

  2. Jennifer De Lurio says

    Hi! What do you do if you start your pickles and the weather changes? It seems likely that it might rain on the third day; especially so far this summer (I’m in Philly too).

    Also, I fully support the Phickle of the Month idea!

    • Amanda says

      Hey Jennifer,

      The last two batches of pickles I made using this technique, the weather changed wildly. The first batch, it was the temperature that fluctuated wildly, which concerned me, but those turned out great! The most recent batch there were some rainy days in there, so I left it an extra day and I made sure to mix very, very well when the weather wasn’t good (concerned that the lack of sunlight wouldn’t do the mold-prevention. That also turned out really nice. I think staying on top of these is the key!

  3. says

    I have been meaning to experiment with fermenting and Indian pickles for a while, have made some weird ones and some great ones,and this is next on my to-try list. Am loving your blog. Love, 215 area-code for the first 18 years of my life. :)

  4. Trent says

    I believe I’m going to give these a go as I am a true chili head. I’m in the southeast, do you think the extreme heat and humidity here will have a adverse effect on these?

    • Amanda says

      Hi Trent,

      The humidity shouldn’t be an issue, but be aware that heat makes things ferment much more quickly and if you’re using very sweet peppers, it give you a bit more of a wine-y by-product than you’d like. Having said that, I’ve fermented things in very toasty temps and had great results. For this project in particular, you should be just fine. One of the worst things that happens in a warmer-temp ferment is that the vegetables get soft. Since you’ll be pureeing these at the end, that’s not really an issue. Let me know how it goes! I’d love to be able to share your experience with other hot climate- dwellers!

  5. David says

    The sun isn’t going to kill your lactic acid bacteria but it will indeed prevent mold since mold is destroyed by UV light!

    The sun does not penetrate inside.

    I had a different and less complete understanding of lactic acid fermentation than I do today

    I do not think that there is lactic acid fermentation. Do you know how to make cured meat (for example, magret séché or biltong) ? Look in internet. The heat helps draws out moisture from vegetables, they “sweat”. The salt draws out moisture, to dry the vegs. Mustard powder absorbs this moisture and the vegs remain dry. Salt and dry (and may be the hot of the chili himself) prevent the development of pathogenic bacteria. Turmeric kills pathogens too.

    Look “Curing (food preservation)” in Wikipedia: “Curing is any of various food preservation and flavoring processes of foods such as meat, fish and vegetables, by the addition of a combination of salt, nitrates, nitrite or sugar. Many curing processes also involve smoking, spicing, or cooking. Dehydration was the earliest form of food curing“.

    I think so.

    (Excuse for my English)


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