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Pickles In Nishiki Market, Kyoto

Tokyo, Tsukuji Market 23.jpg

Nishiki Market is a food enthusiast's dream!  400 years old, narrow, cramped and crowded, this street is also known as Kyoto's Kitchen and is lined with more than a hundred shops and restaurants. Long before we got to Kyoto, I knew that one of my first sightseeing stops was going to be Nishiki Market.

I could hardly wait to explore it's quaint shops full of local produce and fresh seafood, shop for hand made artisanal goods such as knives, pottery and fans, and sample the famed Kyoto pickles of which I had heard so much! Just walking through the bustling, lively market, inhaling unfamiliar aromas, sampling foods new to us and marveling at ingredients we had never seen before was a lesson in culture and cuisine!

Kyoto's specialty, Tsukemono or pickled vegetables, were abundant in many of the shops and we got a taste of the briny, soy tinged, crisp pickled daikon radish, okra, turnips, cucumber, green mango, shallots and young ginger. Japanese pickles are almost an integral part of every meal, often served with rice and miso soup. Not only were they a good way to preserve vegetables in the days before refrigeration, they also added nutrition to the diet and captured the flavours of the season.

During our stay in Kyoto, we had pickled vegetables with a lot of our meals and I couldn't help comparing them with my Indian pickles. Although the principle and tradition behind pickling was similar between Japan and India, the two couldn't have been more different in taste!

Pickling in India is an age old tradition, with treasured family recipes being handed down from mother to daughter, generation to generation. Quite often, there is one designated member of the family, usually a grandmother or an aunt, who will make pickles for the entire clan. It is important to stay in their good books if you want your pickle supply for the year!

I am fortunate to be a part of this chain of pickles, recipes and wisdom handed down to me by my mother, grandmother and aunts and I hope to pass this knowledge on to my sons, who are already showing a fondness for combining Canadian and Indian pickling styles to create their own unique versions!

When it comes to home made pickles, every family has their own unique version, depending on the region of India they are from and the ingredients available. Practically anything can be pickled - fruits, vegetables, even meat or fish!

 Pickling is a deeply satisfying activity. There is something magical about witnessing the sun, salt and spices transform a raw piece of fruit or vegetable into something sublime, packed with intense flavour and longevity. 

These easy, delicious pickles are oil free and taste wonderful with any kind of Indian food, especially when wrapped in a piece of warm naan. I like to leave them at the center of the table, ready to perk up any meal! I also like to throw them into a simmering curry, soup or sauce for the depth of flavour, lemony aroma and earthiness they add to the dish. They are great to use in Indian, Moroccan, Middle Eastern or any of your favourite cuisines.

You can make these pickles two ways - plain salted without the spices, or as described below with spices. For making them without spices, follow below recipe exactly but omit all the spices.

Spiced Pickled Lemons

6 lemons

1 tbsp Kosher salt

4 each: whole cloves, green cardamom

1/2 inch stick cinnamon

1 star anise

1/4 tsp each: black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, red chili flakes, whole allspice, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, whole black peppercorn, saffron strands

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add lemons and simmer for 2 min on medium heat. Remove lemons from water (keep water simmering in pot), drain and pat lemons dry with paper towels. Cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, sterilize a large glass jar by placing it in the simmering water for 2 min. Remove carefully, pat jar dry inside and out with paper towels. You can also sterilize the jar by running it through the dishwasher.

Cut 4 of the lemons into 8 pieces each. Squeeze out the juice from the remaining lemons, discarding rinds.

In large mixing bowl, combine lemon pieces, juice, salt, spices and saffron, mixing well. Pack into sterilized jar, pressing down gently to cover lemons with spiced juices.

Keep jar in sunny spot for 2 weeks, shaking it regularly to evenly distribute juice and spices. Tamp lemons down when necessary to keep them submerged. When lemons are softened and changed in colour, spices mellowed and juices thickened, the pickles are ready to eat. They can be stored in the refrigerator for upto 1 year.