Friday, July 17, 2009

Nellikai Oorugai - Indian Gooseberry pickle and a question

Whenever I think back of my childhood, I fondly remember the Otaheite Gooseberries (சின்ன நெல்லிக்காய் / Phylanthus acidus/Phylanthus Distichus) tree that mom planted, when we were kids. It was a small tree in our backyard, that bore a million fruits which was more than enough for us and all the kids on the street. Passers by would shake the tree and enjoy the fruits and my mom gladly let them enjoy them. She would make lip smacking pickles out of these berries and I used to eat bowfuls at a time. Yes, bowlful of pickles, when she wasn't home! :) But what she liked more was the storebought Indian gooseberries/Amla (பெரிய நெல்லிக்காய்/ Phylanthus Officinalis / Phylanthus Emblica/ Emblica myrobalan). She'd make pickles out of these too, but these would get eaten just one at a time. :) Although my tastebuds have grown to like it these days. When I was about 12, the small tree was taken down by somebody whose business it was totally NOT, and it just broke our hearts to hear about it. May her soul rest in peace.

Ever since Indira posted about finding Indian gooseberries in Toronto, I kept my eyes open for it. After two yrs of living in TO, I finally found it. Nice, juicy looking gooseberries! I bought a lot to make pickles but we started eating one here and one there. We'd eat one and then drink water and enjoy the sweetness it brings (unlike eating sugarcane where we have to wait to drink water!). Before we knew it, there was none left for pickle-making. :) Then began another gooseberry hunt!

Meanwhile my mom planted another gooseberry plant (Indian gooseberry, this time around) back home in my parents garden in Salem, and it grew lean and tall and started producing juicy gooseberries and mom was telling me all about it. She was making pickles after pickles and looking for new ways to use the gooseberries, whereas here I was still looking for those elusive berries. We f.i.n.a.l.l.y got some gooseberries and made the pickle after 3 yrs of wanting to make the pickles! The wait was totally worth it! And yes, the pickles vanished real quick.

Before we goto the recipe, does anybody know if அருநெல்லிக்காய் is the Otaheite gooseberries or the Indian gooseberries? [Yes, the popular consensus is that it is the star shaped former.]

Wash the gooseberries and steam them for 5-10 mins until they are just soft enough to press them open and remove the seed inside. Don't cook them too long, the pickles gets mushy that way. If you can press it open to remove the seed, its time to remove it from the steamer. I use the steamer basket that came with the rice cooker. Separate the gooseberries into tiny wedges. Use a knife if you have to but I find that they separate into wedges easily. Or you can use the whole berries with the seeds if you like it that way.

Heat 3 tbsp sesame oil in a pan, add 1/2 tsp mustard seeds and let them pop. Add, a pinch of asafetida, the gooseberries, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1-2 tsp red chilli powder, salt, 1 tsp pickle masala (dry roasted mustard+methi seeds, finely powdered) and saute for a while. Adding curry leaves, while tempering is optinal. Add the juice of a lime and stir once or twice and then swtich off the heat.. Let it cool down and then store in a glass bottle and use within a week or two. It might have a bigger shelf life, but we never get to test that out at our home. :)