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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Home Canning: thokku and pickles

As a newlywed, I discovered the delights of canning.

When I was in my mum-in-law's kitchen for the first time, she opened a can of salsa she had made for one of our meals. D was pretty matter-of-fact about it, but, it made a deep impression on me.

My mom has always made pickles, vadams, snacks and such at home, stored them appropriately and served them year round.

I hadn't done any canning and was new to the Art of Putting Food By. So, I read books, scoured the web, and experimented with boiling water bath for canning.

First summer after we moved to Oregon, we went garage-sale-hopping and found a wonderful pressure canner for $2! Of course, the pressure gauge was broken, but D was confident of finding one online and getting it fixed. Which he did, of course, the gauge cost 20$! Still, at 22$, it is a steal for a 5 gallon pressure canner.

Now, even though I have a precious pressure canner for all my canning needs, boiling water bath remains my favorite as it meets the needs of most of the foods I can, like: indian pickles, salsa verde, salsa roja, veggies, tomatoes, pasta sauce, marinara sauce, berry jams and fruit syrups.

Indian pickles are not quite the same as pickling with vinegar.

Generally, they are packed in oil with spices and salt; some undergo a bit of cooking; some, like thokku, are sautéed, simmered, and undergo reduction till oil separates.

Many need to sit in a cool dark place for a few weeks to mature and develop.

Some are simply brined.

Some are simply allowed to soak in a blend of spices, salt, and oil, and served along with the savory liquid - my favorite of this kind being the tender/baby mango pickle called "maavadu", or "kadugu manga" when mustard seeds are used.

Tomato Thokku and Green Chili Thokku
Thokkus are almost like paste: smooth, not chunky. Generally, I blend the thokku ingredients into a paste when raw, then roast it in oil, stirring frequently till oil separates and is reduced to a thick, spreadable consistency. Can immediately. Store in a cool dark place for 2-4 weeks before serving.

Tomato thokku: tomatoes, paprika, red chili powder, salt, jaggery or brown sugar, oil
Green Chili thokku: green chillies, asafoetida (tiny bit), salt, oil, brown sugar, brown mustard seeds, tamarind

I am omitting exact measurements here. Adjust to taste. Make small or large batches as you desire... I usually make large batches and can them and let them mature in the cool dark basement:-)
Tomato thokku mixed in with some cream cheese makes a great sandwich spread.

Chili Lime Pickle
Green chilies, slit; fairly thin-skinned lime, cut into pieces; garlic cloves, chopped (optional); salt; chili powder; asafoetida; fenugreek, crushed; black mustard seeds,crushed; oil
sauté chilies and lime in oil, add the spices and salt, adjust to taste, cook over medium high heat stirring constantly till oil separates; can immediately; allow to mature for 6-8 weeks before using.

As it matures, the chilies mellow out, and the tanginess of lime takes over in a pleasant way, balanced with the salt and brown sugar; the lime skin gets soft and fork-tender. It goes perfectly with south-indian style yogurt rice, aka "thayir shadam".

If not canning, store in an air tight container in a cool dark place (or in the fridge) for a few weeks before using.

Again, I am omitting exact measurements here. Adjust to taste. Make small or large batches to suit your needs...

Also, substitute chili and lime with mixed vegetables, or just garlic for variation.

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  • At 4:31 PM, Blogger K said…


    I'd really like to try this recipe, but I have no idea what proportions to start with.

    Please be a dear and post at least general proportions (perhaps for 1 litre?)

    Also, how long (10-15 minutes?) do you boiling water can litre / quart jars of this?

    Cheers :)

  • At 6:50 PM, Blogger Sheela said…

    Hello K, Thanks for your note. I will try to give a rough proportion that you can adjust to taste.

    Instead of combining all ingredients and blending them as I do, you could first blend just blend the tomatoes to a fine pulp and start adding flavors.

    For each 8oz cup of tomato pulp perhaps you can start with
    1 tsp paprika,
    1 Tbsp chili powder (if you like it hot),
    half-teaspoon salt,
    1 teaspoon brown sugar.

    Stir well, taste and adjust. Then saute in 2-3 Tbsp oil (more if you like it oily) till dark red and it leaves the sides of the pan.

    For boiling water bath: fill water in a large pot that can hold the canning jars; place the filled and lidded canning jars in the pot of water; make sure there is at least 2 inches of water above the tops of the canning jars; allow to come to a rolling boil; since tomato is acidic enough, you can allow to boil for about 15-20 minutes and it should be good.

    Drop me an email if this is not helpful at all, or any other specific questions and I can try to share what I did. Hope this helps.


  • At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Can all Indian pickle recipes be used for canning? My husband likes mango pickle, but I haven't tried to can it before. Do you know how long mango or lime pickle would need to stay in the boiling water bath for while canning?

    Thank you!

  • At 8:59 AM, Blogger Sheela said…

    Anon: Since lime pickle is acidic enough, I've canned it in boiling water bath for about 20 minutes and it has worked out fine. As for mango pickle - cut-mango (avakkai style) or tender mango (vadu mangai style) or magai thokku - I like to add some plain distilled vinegar for acidity if the mango isn't sour enough already. But, canning time remains the same - about 20 mins. I usually experiment with small batches first till I am satisfied to move on to making large batches with any new canning - perhaps that might help your efforts as well.
    Cheers and good luck.

  • At 6:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I would like to make mango pickle and/or chili lime pickle to can in hot water bath - could you give me ingredients/proportions and instructions for making these?

    I can't find any instructions on the internet for canning Indian pickles

    Thanks - Brenda

  • At 4:30 PM, Blogger VishnuPriya said…

    Hi Sheela, Such an amazing collection of recipes you have !
    I have been searching low and high on methods to can Indian pickle and have found none except yours. How long does the canned Thakaali thokku stay good?. In Summer tomato being abundant i love to preserve them as Thokku. But they have a notorious short shelf life compared to Lime pickle. Thanks for your post.

  • At 6:36 PM, Blogger Sheela said…

    Brenda:: Sorry, will do a separate post for canning mango pickles. Cheers!

    VishniPriya:: Thanks! I use a combination of fresh tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes along with Sambal Oelek and saute it in gingelly/mustard/vegetable oil and can it in summers. By end of the year (about 4 months later) they were still good last year. (I leave it in the basement in cool dark pantry.)


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