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Chutney & Achaar

It's hard to imagine an Indian plate without a spoonful of achaar (pickle) or chutney (dip), whether it's a vegetarian or non-vegetarian meal. Not only do they multiply your taste experience, but many of them also offer a number of health benefits.


These finely spiced Indian side dishes range in flavor, texture and color to suit every palate, be it spicy, sour, salty or sweet. Chutneys and pickles occupy a very prominent place on any thali (a large round metal plate traditionally used to serve an assortment of different dishes).


Chutney is a side dish that is a staple in all states. From northern India's mooli-ki chutney (radish chutney) or pudina chutney (mint chutney), to Gujarat's garlic chutney, Maharashtra's black sesame tilkoot or southern India's selection of coconut, onion or gongura (Roselle), to Nagaland's famous fish chutney. No matter which state you find yourself in India, the ever-popular chutney will always accompany you.


Chutneys can be divided into two basic categories. The fresh chutneys, which are mixed with fresh ingredients and spices, such as coriander and mint, are not cooked. The cooked chutneys are simmered over low heat until all the flavors are well blended. While chutneys are enjoyed and eaten in almost every household across the country, their flavor is as varied as the number of hands that prepare them each day.


In Indian culture, the preparation of achaar (pickle) is a domestic tradition. I fondly remember the gossip sessions of my grandmother, mother, and aunts during the hot summer months. Neighborhood women would gather on patios and terraces, sit in a circle around the many dried spices and grind them with several ingredients for later pickling. They waited patiently for days for the mixtures to ferment in the sun on the patio until the perfect seasoning was achieved. Each family takes pride in their own secret recipe that has been passed down through generations. The whole process is a family event to look forward to.


Pickles are usually spicy and a balanced blend of spices, vegetables or fruits, and herbs served in small quantities with the dish. No Indian household is complete without jars of freshly prepared pickles sitting on a sunny window shelf or kitchen cabinet. 


Salt and oil play a major role in the preparation of pickles. While salt enhances flavor, adds moisture, and prevents bacterial growth, oil prevents ingredients from drying out, thus preserving moisture. Mango, lemon, and mixed vegetables are some of the most popular varieties, but Indian cooks have literally made pickles out of anything. In addition to onions and cauliflower, you'll find carrots, garlic, amla (Indian gooseberry) and many more.


No matter how our palate or cuisine changes from traditional to fusion, chutney and pickles are two side dishes that will never find a replacement.

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