South Indian pickles are pungent salty, sour, spicy condiments, meant to aid digestion with helpful fermented bacteria while adding a shot of flavor and spice to your food. Some recipes ferment the vegetables and spices for several days, but for those with bad pickling luck, you can try this cooked version instead. A healthy dollop brightens up bland rice dishes, or provides a nice complement to your curry.
Make about 1 1/2 cups
3 tablespoons oil (pickles tend to be made with mustard oil or untoasted sesame oil, but you can easily substitute canola if you don't have access to these)
1 tablespoon black mustard seed
Hefty pinch asafetida*
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek*
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon hot Indian chili powder**
1 1/2 pounds green tomatoes, cut into a 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
1 scant tablespoon coarse salt
Heat the oil in a large skillet over a high heat. When hot but not smoking, add the mustard seeds, and let them pop (cover with a lid to prevent them from popping out of the pan). When the popping subsides, cut the heat down to medium and add the remaining ground spices. Stir and allow to toast for half a minute, then add the tomatoes, salt and lemon or lime juice. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are broken down and saucy, and the mixture has thickened, 30 to 40 minutes.
Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator for future meals. Because of the high salt and low pH, this mixture will keep, refrigerated, for several weeks.
*Both asafetida (a pungent, oniony ground resin) and fenugreek (a seed with a flavor reminiscent of maple syrup) can be found at Indian groceries and some well-stocked health food stores.
**Substitute any ground hot chili powder, as long as it only contains chili — not a Mexican-style chili powder pre-mixed with cumin and other spices. If your chili powder isn't terribly hot, you can supplement with some cayenne.