A Tale Of Tradition
It’s a common question in most diasporic households… every time someone is planning a trip to the ‘Motherland’ they will ask; Is there anything you’d like me to bring back? My answer to anyone visiting my original heartland of Indian Occupied Kashmir is always ‘aanchar’. A jar (or two) of The Kashmiri pickled vegetables that most people eat as a condiment with their traditional batta (rice) and I will basically eat as a salad replacement!
Adding it to anything and everything, I especially recommend sneaking a few morsels of it into any sandwich just to savour that sound of ‘crunch’ when you blindly bite into a piece of tangy, pungent, pickled cabbage. All the die-hard traditionalists reading this can look away now because – I’ll add it to pasta along with some mayo and I even love it mixed up with a dollop of cold honey yogurt. It is quite different to the Indian and Pakistani Chutneys and Chaats with their plethora of spices and sometimes paste like consistency. In Koshur aanchar each slice of carrot, each floret of cauliflower is still recognisable as such and if done right all of them retain their ‘crunch’.
It’s not easy, sneaking a homemade jar of this past customs at any airport, never mind U.S.A borders. But food is my MIL’s Love Language, her daughter in law wanted aanchar and aanchar, Mama in Law assured me, I would get.
She asked if she could make it for me in my apartment kitchen when she arrives (erm…Yes!) and whether all the ingredients would be available?. After assurances from me that yes mustard seeds will be available to purchase here from any Desi (South Asian) store and that yes so will coriander seeds, she still bought small packets of all the masalas (spices) she would need. Some of them still packaged in the old school way of being twisted in a piece of newspaper.
There are many variations of this aanchaar, but this is a good basic method that will hit the spot (especially for the one eating out of nostalgia for that ‘back home’ taste). Trim your nails and wash your hands because things are about to get physical! I know you could wear gloves but then how will you infuse the whole thing with the secret ingredient? ‘Love’.
Traditional Home Made Kashur Aanchaar, those who know, Know, and those who don’t know get to find out by reading this post ~ An ode to my lovely Mama in Law who made this for me with her own hands.
Garlic 1-2 bulbs / (12-18 cloves)
Kholerabi (this funny little veggie is not a must but great if you can find it)
Lotus root (again addition of fresh lotus roots would elevate this recipe, its commonly found in Kashmir, however not a problem if you don’t have any on hand ~ we certainly didn’t have any this time)
Red chilli powder
Mustard oil: This is a must for that authentic earthy taste. If you can’t source this then use any non smelling oil like canola, vegetable or sunflower oil (as opposed to olive, peanut or sesame). The mustard seeds in the aanchar will impart some of that pungent smell and taste to it all on being crushed anyway.
You will also need some jars or containers that have airtight lids. Wash with soap and hot water before hand and let them completely dry out.
Traditionally the making of aanchar was not something one did all by themselves, nor did it entail the filling of one lonely jar. Back in the 80’s, in rural Kashmir, as a young boy living with his grandparents, my husband was witness to one of the biggest social events post harvest ~ making of the aanchar.
As as with many Kashmiri cuisine practices the realm of Aanchaar preparation is not left only to women. It was a huge family affair. The cleaning, cutting and blanching of vegetables, (all sourced from their own edible gardens) the mixing of spices and the most prestigious part the ‘aanchar barun’ literally the ‘filling of the containers’. Dadaji (my husband’s grandfather) would take on this role himself, putting the first handful into a container with a momentous ‘Bismillah’*.
And what containers they were! No cute mason jars here. My husband tells me of barrel like pots made of clay called ‘aanchar noutt’ six or seven of which would be filled. The whole process could go on through the night till the early hours of dawn. Saffron Kehwa would be made and served in huge samovars and old ballards sung, to while away the hours at the event that was the Aanchar Barun. I love this photo of my husband’s Grandmother, cleaning the ‘haakh‘ (collard greens – one of the main ingredients of Koshur Aanchar), whilst enjoying some sun in her garden.
But what to do with all this aanchar?
Made as a post harvest food, the airtight pickling allowed a mixture of common garden vegetables to be easily available for eating during the winter. It also added a bit of extra spice and flavor to the oftentimes blandish winter staples like lentils. Of course in true Kashmiri style, especially in the villages and rural areas – it was shared out generously amongst neighbours and friends.
You may only want to make that one mason jar of this aanchar, but I suggest if you are going to the effort of doing this you make a couple more. In December Mama in law filled at least 7 jars for me (not one is left!) and maybe I should have added this to the ingredients list above, but to make this aanchar you will need (at least) one friend.
For ease of following I will be sharing amounts relevant to 1Kg (2.2lbs) of vegetables, and you guys can just double or triple as you prefer.
Wash all vegetables. peel, cut, slice carrots into disks of around 1-2 cm thickness, separate cauliflower into small florets, Blanche by immersing in boiling water once for three to four minutes. DO NOT blanche the garlic, this should be kept separate.
Gather together all the vegetables and toss so well mixed. Spread out in a sunny place to dry out for one night.
Keep Garlic thickly sliced but do not immerse it in theboiling water and keep separate as there is no need to ‘dry’ it.
The next day
Lightly Dry roast the mustard and coriander seeds and coarsely crush them.
Heat approximately two cups of the Mustard Oil in a pan till just before smoking point, and keep aside.
Add masalas/spices to the vegetables and also add the sliced garlic. 2 heaped Tbs or crushed coriander seed and 2 heaped Tbs of crushed mustard seeds for every 1Kg of Vegetables.Using your hands, rub well. Add salt. Rub again.
Its up to you how ‘hot’ you would like this for medium hotness add one heaped table spoon of red chilli powder for extra level Hotness add two Tbs.
Add a glug of oil – not too much and rub into everything.
Take a clean jar, add a small splash of the warm oil to the bottom of the jar.
Start filling it as you fill the jar keep packing it well, pressing down on the top, till some of the oil starts seeping up through the top. It’s the pushing and pressing and and sheer pressure that creates the anaerobic environment for fermentation. This breaks down sugar in the vegetables and turns it into lactic acid, hence that amazing Tangy taste. Use a wooden spoon or similar object to push down if needed.
When you feel you can not physically pack any more into the jar screw on the lid and leave aside.
Keep packing jars until the last of your vegetables have been used.
If you want the aanchar to ‘ripen’ quickly don’t refrigerate, just leave out in a dark cupboard for 2-3 weeks and then open for a tangy and sourish aanchar, that still leaves the hardest of the vegetables with a little bite to them. If you prefer it less ‘sour’ and more crunchy then leave in fridge and open in one-two weeks time.
Funny little fact; there is something that comes extremely close to tasting like this, you’d never guess what ! ~ Korean Kimchi! It must be the common denominators of fermented cabbage, garlic and red chilli powder, so if you are big Kimchi fans you will LOVE this Koshur Aanchar!
*Bismillah means ‘In the Name of Allah’, Muslims take the name of God as the best way to begin anything!