This spicy and sour cranberry achar is an Indian-style pickle that is fermented and preserved in mustard oil, Kashmiri chili powder, and fennel seeds. It is the perfect condiment to liven up any dish.
What is achar?
For those unfamiliar, achar (Hindi), also known as oorga (Tamil), are Indian pickles. It is a condiment or side dish most similar to Korean kimchi rather than American dill pickles. A fruit or vegetable is fermented and preserved with mustard oil or sesame oil along with some spices and chili powder. The most popular achars are mango, lemon/lime, and garlic. However, you can really get creative with the ingredients you decide to pickle.
Inspiration behind cranberry achar
Cranberry is not a standard achar that you can buy at an Indian grocery store. The inspiration behind this pickle was to create a cranberry dish that I could serve at an Indian-inspired Thanksgiving. Traditionally a sweet cranberry sauce is served at an American Thanksgiving, but I wanted to use cranberries to create something more Indian-ish. The sourness and sweetness of the cranberries creates a delicious tart and spicy condiment that will have your mouth watering.
What is mustard oil?
This recipe calls for mustard oil, which you can find online or at your local Indian store. It is an oil that smells kind of like wasabi and adds a nutty and bitter flavor. When you find mustard oil in the store, you will see it marked for external use only. There are certain laws in the United States that require that this disclaimer be placed on the oil because of a type of fat that is found in mustard oil. I personally have grown up eating this oil so I feel comfortable using this for achar. However, you can substitute Indian sesame oil or use vegetable oil as a substitute.
Important tips for making and storing achar
- Achar gets better with time. Let your pickle sit for at least 4 hours before eating. However, this cranberry pickle does well with at least 3 days of fermenting. This allows the sour cranberries to release their juices and mix with the other ingredients in the pickle.
- Move the achar to the fridge after 3-4 days for a longer shelf life. Once the achar has fermented for 3-4 days at room temperature, you should move it to the fridge for a slower fermentation and a longer shelf life.
- Measure the salt by weight not volume. The rule of thumb is that there is a ratio of at least 3% in weight of fine sea salt to fruit or veggie when making a pickle. This helps inhibit and prohibit bacterial growth. That means that if you have 100g of cranberries then you would need at least 3g of salt.
- If storing achar for long periods of time, make sure to store achar in a sanitized mason jar to prevent mold.
Frequently Asked Questions
Mustard oil is a pungent oil that smells similar to wasabi. It is used to add extra flavor to Indian dishes. You can learn more about it here.
The longer you allow the pickle to ferment the tastier it will be. It is best to speed fermentation of the pickle at room temperature for 4 hours to 4 days and then slow down this process by placing the achar in the fridge. If you need to expedite the process, you can either cut the cranberries in half or heat them over the stove with 2-3 tablespoons of water until they soften and burst.
Kashmiri chili powder is a bright red chili powder that has a mild spice. You can learn more about it here.
Fenugreek seeds, also known as methi seeds, are a small brownish-yellow seed that adds a bitterness and depth to Indian cooking.
A spicy achar is paired nicely with a roti or a cooling yogurt rice.