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Pickles with a twist: How lockdown helped these innovative cuisines pick up steam

Be it the sharp scent of mustard or the aroma of dried shrimp in chilli oil, creative cuisine has picked up steam during lockdown. Now, for an innovative meal, just twist open a jar

Upalas Kitchen

This year, Jyotsna Reddy is tackling homesickness with oil, salt and chillies. As it turns out, a spoon of home-made mango pickle is a surprisingly effective way to chase away those 2020 blues.

“During lockdown all my friends were missing their moms,” says the chatty photographer, explaining how she and her family stumbled into pickle making as a business recently, and now suddenly find themselves in a home filled with vats of fiery mangoes, tangy pachadi and fragrant podi, not to mention the heavy scent of “kaaram in the air”. She chuckles, “We are literally breathing fire some days.”

Upalas Kitchen

Summer, in India, is traditionally mango pickling month. “Moms and grandmoms send across mango avakkai at this time. It is the only chance to stock up for the entire year. With the pandemic, no one got their pickles this year,” she says.

When friends began asking Jyotsna if she and her mother could make them mango pickle, the family wondered if it could also be a viable business. “We were pretty jobless, done with watching Netflix. Our offices were shut… so we decided to start making mango avakkai just for friends, who insisted on paying,” says Jyotsna, adding that the team consists of her mother, husband and two helpers.

Upalas Kitchen

“So it is five people doing the work of 15 right now!”

The pickles have a clarity of flavour that comes from meticulous processing and high quality ingredients. Her wide range of pachadis, meant to be mixed with rice, are conveniently versatile and can be used to spice up everything from sandwiches to nachos.

Try the piquant green chilli, with a pleasant echo of mustard. And Upala’s scarlet pandu mirchi, vivid with ripe chillies from Guntur. A customer favourite is the ginger-jaggery bomb, which Jyotsna describes as a tangle of “tangy, sweet and spicy. Like the flavour of India”.

Call 8056075555

Pickle Shickle

“Last night, my sister and I ate these amazing sandwiches for dinner: pork pickle, cheese and bhujia,” giggles Preetika Chawla, over phone from Delhi.

Four years ago, Preetika and her sister Prerna, who are both actors, launched Pickle Shickle in Mumbai as a hobby. “We would come home from a shoot and make maybe 50 jars till 2 am,” says Preetika, explaining how they used their mother’s recipes and began with three kinds of pickle: chicken, pork and lotus stem.

As the brand developed a loyal following, the sisters decided to ramp up production, with some help from their mother, and so they moved to Delhi. “Now we actively make them all day long, and do about 500 jars a week,” says Preetika.

Pickle Shickle

During lockdown, as more people began working and cooking at home, the brand saw a steady rise in customers. “I think around 300%,” says Preetika, adding, “What is different about us is we never make more than five kilos at a time, so it always has that ghar ka vibe.”

The sisters, who have roots in Coorg, launched a chilli oil with dried shrimp in May inspired by their Burmese great grandparents. “We do a vegetarian chilli oil, which is so popular that we make 40 bottles every three days,” laughs Preetika, adding, “Our house is just perfumed with onions right now!”

Pickle Shickle does mushroom, jackfruit and lotus stem pickle as well as bacon relish. They are currently experimenting with fresh turmeric and squid. The pickles are designed to make putting meals together easier, and the sisters suggest adding them to pancakes, samosas and paneer.

“We even do poppers at home with them,” says Preetika. “Mango salsa, yoghurt and pickle in golgappa.” Yes. They deliver to Chennai.

Order on pickleshickle.com

Intox Kitchen

Bhavna Arya’s boozy ice cream startup has taken an unexpected turn. She has moved out of her home kitchen into a professional set up, and launched Intox Kitchen specialising in healthy, global cuisine with Sanjeev Varma who runs the Black Orchid restaurant.

Intox Kitchen

The cloud kitchen launched this week by delivering pretty dainty lunch packs in millennial pink, designed like Japanese Bento boxes to give clients a sample of different dishes on the menu.

The boxes, thankfully devoid of plastic packaging, held a pleasingly chewy black rice risotto with edamame, topped with thin slices of cajun chicken. There were springy sesame tossed soba noodles. And the highlight: still crunchy vegetables baked in pesto, creamy with avocado.

Bhavna calls her food “creative cuisine with a healthy twist”. She experiments with ingredients and recipes from around the world, focussing on food that is wholesome.

Intox Kitchen

This style of cooking requires endlessly patient attention to detail, so scaling up will be their main challenge. Bhavna seems up for the task, “We are going to tread really carefully. And I am standing here 24/7,” she says.

She also promises to dish up cheat meals for the weekend: “Like a layered biryani with chicken tikka, or tofu on crispy pancakes.”

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This weekly column tracks the city’s shifting culinary landscape. Heard of a new food venture? Tell me: shonali.m@thehindu.co.in

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