Sunday, 5 July 2015

Garlic pickle elixir of life

There is nothing* better than friends who like the same sort of food that you do, but have different recipe books. We invited said friends (not knowing this about them yet) for dinner. Did they like curry? Yes, they said. And if it was quite hot, chilli-hot? Um... some of it really quite hot? Yes, they said. But we were nervous. It used to be, English people would say they liked really hot food, and then you served them really hot food, and then they died, and it was your fault they were dead, but you'd asked and they said yes. (If you're not born and bred here, it's very hard to know when English people don't like things. Because asking doesn't work, and there are no visible signs, but apparently there are minute signals with which they communicate with each other. I've done my best to go native since I started living here, but some of the finer details still elude me, to my frustration. At times I've suspected some of the information is passed on chemically, as plants do. Anyway.) So we prepared a wide range of curries, a veritable feast, all the way from the mildest up to a Balti phal, and I added fine green beans to the Balti phal, and thus by accident camouflaged the whole green chillis, which added an unexpected Russian-roulette dimension to that part of the dinner. They seemed very happy, though I always wonder if I'm missing chemical signals, even with people I know well.

THEN: they invited us around to theirs for dinner, on their boat. And prepared us a veritable curry feast! Of splendidly hot rich and various curries, a marvel of food joy, and totally different recipes to the ones we know! And they fed us garlic pickle. And only courtesy stopped me eating the entire lot out the jar with a teaspoon.


I nabbed the recipe off them, and it came from this book, which we shall buy, because it's wonderful. And reminds me, somehow, of South African matchboxes, though I'm not sure why.

Made in India. You should buy this book.

You will need...

 150g of garlic cloves (that's three and a half bulbs, usually)
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek
4 Tablespoons groundnut oil (peanut oil)
3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 3/4 teaspoons caster sugar
the juice of 2 lemons (I've tried using bottled lemon juice, and it's just not as good, so I use actual lemons for this)

The coriander, fenugreek, and cumin seeds are whole, so they need to be toasted first.

As usual, stir them until they start giving off steam, and then fairly quickly...

... pop them into a cool bowl. Straight into the mortar, here, to be pestled up once they've cooled.

Let the peeling of the garlic commence. The garlic cloves need to be whole, so you won't be using the usual chef-trick here. I free them all, then chop the stubby ends off them all, then hand-peel each one. It takes me about half an hour. That's the length of a Radio 4 comedy, and this is a weekend-cook sort of dish, and Radio 4 helpfully repeats its Monday and Friday comedies on the weekend, at about midday, which is the sort of time you might already be awake and embarking on some weekend cooking. So half an hour of comedy and peacefully peeling garlic cloves, sitting at a table if you prefer, is quite pleasant, really. And we're eating this stuff so enthusiastically that I'm doing this every other weekend, if not every weekend. Also, every part of it is so, so beautiful, but I'll bang on about that at the end.

Checking the weight... yes, three and a half bulbs is my desired garlic aim.

If I'm spending time on something, I like to have an attractive prep station, with everything I need. A beautiful bowl for the beautiful skins, a beautiful bowl for the actual cloves, my favourite little board.

 By now the whole spices have cooled, so they can be ground up. Will was grinding these as I wasn't yet well enough to do vigorous strengthy things like spice-grinding. (It's not actually that vigorous, but I was still struggling to lift the kettle at the time.)

All the cloves are ready. All the skins - they're like angel feathers.

 The whole spices are finely milled. Just the smell of these three was already sending me giddy with mouth-watering enthusiasm.

Line up the ingredients! They're in cooking order from right to left: the oil, the mustard seeds, the garlic + turmeric + salt, the whole spice powder + chilli, the lemons + caster sugar.

Heat the groundnut oil in a pan on medium-hot, and throw in the mustard seeds. When they start cracking like tiny popcorn,...

... add the garlic cloves and turmeric, and turn the heat down to low.

Stir it gently for about 5 minutes. The recipe said "until the cloves soften" but I didn't think that was discernible, so I did it by colour. You want to softly cook them without frying them crispy.

Add the whole spices, now powdered, to fry in with them, and also... 

... the chilli powder.

You'll stir that mix in and let it fry for about two minutes, stirring occasionally, which means you can hastily juice your lemons!

Cooking is beautiful

Pour the lemon juice into the pan, and then add...

... the castor sugar.  Sprinkle it over and stir it in, give it a minute or so to dissolve, and then switch the heat off. 

 A salty, sugary, spicy sargasso sea of goodness.
Mouth-exploding excitement.
Holy-hell-what-did-I-just-eat tongue-spasming tasty.

It's ready to pop in a clean jar now. (It's fine to put hot into the jar.)

 This is Will's funnel, but I think I love it more. It's a jam funnel, I believe, and has made the whole putting-things-in-jars business such a glee and a breeze I can't believe I lived without it so long. Also, the brushed aluminium is such a pleasure to handle and to look at, a muted sheen without a shine, a sturdy lightness... Yeah, I definitely love it more.

Pour all the garlic pickle from the pan (through a funnel, if you can) into a jar.


I have a very mild superpower of being able to predict exactly the size of container I need, and unfailingly choose the perfectly sized tupperware or jar. I am inordinately proud of this. My related very mild superpower is visually judging measurements of length. A centimetre to the exact millimetre. If I tell you it's two miles, it actually is. Etc. This holds entirely true until it comes to manouevring my own dimensions through any given space, and then I bash into door frames and trip over furniture. I did say they were very mild superpowers.

You can serve it with poppadoms, or eat it on oatcakes as part of a lunch-collation, but going on empirical data, the best vehicle for it appears to be a teaspoon. Leave it on the counter and it just... evaporates!

I said I find peeling the garlic quite peaceable and beautiful. I really do find it extraordinarily beautiful. The sheens and textures and very pale earthy colours. I photograph food so much because I find it so beautiful. If I were writing a novel now, instead of my blog, I might try to describe all the beauties I see in it, but instead, this is why I photograph it so very much, and here is a gallery, from another garlic-peeling session, of garlic's beauties. You can click on them to admire the subtleties close-up.

* There probably are better things. I bet you're making a list, right now, of things that are better. And I'm very happy to take the credit / blame for your making a list of things in life that are exceptionally good and fine. Excellent behaviour.

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