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  • Writer's picture Payal M.

Mum's Special Chili Pickles

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

Today's recipe is really special! This recipe is in honor of my great-grand aunt who passed away last year. We all called her Nani. She was a big part of our lives in Fiji. She was like a babysitter, grandma, chef, house sitter and mentor all in one. To all of us. She loved to watch wrestling with my dad and she loved to eat spicy food. In fact, she would eat raw chilis mixed in with cooked rice for lunch. Just. Like. That. Extremely tough and special lady! Nani was an expert cook and every time she would come visit us, she would cook for us. She loved to cook and feed people. Many of her recipes were very traditional and she taught my mom quite a number of them such as chicken pulao. As mum and I cook together, she mentions the recipes that Nani taught her and we share stories about Nani. It is nice to be able to share stories about Nani with my mum. We all miss her quite a bit. In honor of Nani's love for chilis, we decided to make her chili pickle recipe. We make pickles or "achaar" out of many vegetables. These are not your typical pickles made in vinegar, but rather the vegetables are cooked/ preserved in special spice mixes and aromatics. This chili pickle is obviously spicy, sweet, garlicky, tangy and incredibly well-spiced all at the same time! I cannot handle much spice myself but I struggle-buss through eating this pickle because it is that tasty. It enhances any dish you can think of or adds some pep to simple meals like dhal & rice. It is great way to impress guests if they can handle the spiciness! We used Thai chilis for this recipe but you can literally use any kind of chili that you like. Jalapenos would be very good in this recipe. First step is to clean, wash and dry chilis. Then we leave the chilis out in the sun for at least a day to dry them out a bit. Another important ingredient is tamarind pulp. We get this from the Indian store. It is basically the pulp from a tamarind that has been dried down a bit. We take the tamarind pulp, soak it in water and then extract the "juices" from that. You will need to squish the pulp once it softens to be able to get as much "juice" out of it as possible. You can also find tamarind paste or juice in the ethnic aisles at a regular American grocery store. You will just have to thin it out a bit with water. So first step is to fry the chilis in high heat in mustard oil. We like to use mustard oil for pickle making but you can use any type of mild vegetable oil that is good for frying. Chilis are fried until they begin to turn dark. Then we add the tamarind juice and salt.

Keep stirring and cooking until tamarind bubbles and thickens up. Then add sugar and turn the heat off.

Add crushed garlic, cumin, garam masala and turmeric at this point and continue to stir so that everything is well mixed. Stir extremely well!

And that's it! You now have yourself, Mum's (and Nani's) Tasty Chili Pickles!

Try these pickles with dhals, vegetable curries, meat and seafood dishes! It can even be used as a chutney for savory snacks like baaras, fried fish and pakoras!

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RECIPE: Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes Ingredients: 1 lb Thai chilis 1 cup mustard oil

1 cup tamarind juice Salt to taste 2 tbsp sugar 3 tbsp crushed garlic 2 tsp garam masala 1 tsp turmeric 1 tsp cumin powder Method:

  1. Clean, wash and prep chilis by drying them in the sun for a day.

  2. Heat oil on high heat.

  3. Add chilis and fry until chilis have darkened. Be careful at this step. The chilis will start to pop as they heat up. A splatter screen is very useful in this step.

  4. When chilis are appropriately browned, add tamarind juice and salt.

  5. Cook until tamarind has thickened. Add sugar.


  7. Add garlic, garam masala, turmeric and cumin and mix until everything is well mixed.


These pickles can be stored in a mason jar in the refrigerator for several months.

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