A recipe for mango pickle, awakai or awakaya, the culinary pride of Andhra.
Cucumber with pickled mango – Awakai
It is common knowledge that Andhra is synonymous with avakai or mango pickle. The cucumber Andhra mango is called awakai or awakaya. The main ingredients of avakai are ava, meaning mustard, and kai or kaya, meaning raw fruit. There are many popular variations of avakai like bellam avakai or sweet mango cucumber, endu avakai (sun-dried), allam avakai (ginger), nuvvu avakai (sesame), pesara avakaya (moong dal), mamidikaya menthi pachadi and many others. But the king of cucumbers, Awakai, is unmatched in taste. One of the best jewels of traditional Indian cuisine.
Andhra flour – steamed rice, mudda papu, kota avakai, ghee, totakura vepudu, charu, homemade pelalu vadiyalu and majiga mirapakayalu.
Needless to say, no Andhra’s dinner would be complete without avakaya. We, the Telugu people, are proud to serve our guests a welcoming andhra dish of hot steamed white rice and muddha papu (tur dal puree), kota avakaya (freshly prepared marinated mango cucumber) with a touch of ghee (melted butter) and a stir-fry dish of vegetables or curry, charu (rasam), apadam, perugu (yogurt) and majiga mirapakayala (sun-dried chillies).
The best part of summer in our part of the world in Andhra is the arrival of the king of fruits, green mangoes and kota awakai (freshly cooked mango pickle). Every year, with the arrival of summer, the pickling of mangoes is a culinary tradition followed with the greatest respect, excitement, care and love. It is a fascinating process where the whole family, including extended family members, comes together to prepare avakai and fill large jaadis (ceramic pots or bharanis) with fried avakai.
As a child, my grandfather and I would go to the mango farm to see the mangoes being picked off the tree to make pickles. Mangoes must be picked by hand and carefully removed from the tree without letting them fall to the ground. Even a small bruise on a mango is useless to make a mango pickle out of. Mangoes should be absolutely firm, ripe, fibrous, flawless and acidic.
Once the mangoes are picked, they should be used the same day to make the pickle. Fresh raw mangoes are soaked in water for an hour, dried by draining and carefully cut with a special knife. It takes special skill to cut a mango with its core intact (tenkai or outer core) and into pieces of equal size. If the hard core remains intact, the thin translucent layer covering the plate is removed with a spoon or knife. Then each piece of mango is carefully wiped with a soft cloth and placed on a towel to dry for an hour or two before salting. If any of the pieces have no kernel or green skin, it is discarded. For good results and a colour that lasts for a year, it is crucial to carefully follow the preliminary colouring steps.
Mango slices ~ Ingredients for pickled mango cucumbers
Other key ingredients in the mango pickle recipe are freshly ground mustard powder, red pepper powder used to make pickles, crystal salt (powder) and cold-pressed dessert oil (unrefined golden sesame oil, also called papu-nunus/nuvvunus in Telugu). Usually Bandar Mirapakayalu (a type of red pepper), Balari (or Bellari) or Kashmiri red peppers are used to make mango pickles. The red peppers are dried in the sun and ground into a fine powder. Nowadays, good quality chilli powder used for pickles is available in most supermarkets. I recommend using Three Mango brand red chili powder if you buy chili powder at the store.
The black mustard seeds are dried in the sun and freshly ground on the day of pickling so that the cucumber retains the taste of fresh mustard. You can use store-bought mustard powder (used for pickles). The use of a crude gelling oil is essential to obtain an authentic and genuine taste of avacai. The taste of the mango pickle depends on the type of oil used in its preparation. Don’t compromise when using gel oil. The second best oil would be peanut butter.
Avakai seasoning powder – garlic and metizo seeds are added.
We make a lot of avakai at home, but for the benefit of my readers, I’m sharing a recipe for making a small batch with 3 medium-sized mangoes. Writing an avakai recipe is not easy, but I will make a humble attempt to help you understand the engraving process. It’s best to weigh out the main ingredients. The chilli powder, mustard powder and salt must be of equal weight, i.e. 100 mm chilli powder + 100 mm mustard powder + 100 mm salt. Basic rule: Use an equal amount of seasoning mixture (red chili powder, mustard powder and salt) to measure out the mango pieces. In other words: If you are using one cup of mango pieces, you need to mix them with one cup of spice mixture.
For beginners or those just starting to make avakai, I suggest you take a cup and add a cup of red chili powder, a cup of mustard powder and a little less than 3/4 cup of crystal salt powder and mix. Place this mixture in a large bowl so that it is filled to the brim. This large bowl will also be your measuring cup for the mango pieces. You will need 1 1/4 cups of oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of mathy seeds and 1/3 cup of garlic cloves to prepare the spice-mango mixture in the amount indicated above.
The colour of the cucumber depends on the type of chilli and mustard powder used. If you use chili powder from Kashmir or Bandar, you will get a nice bright red-orange color. At home, we add methi seeds and garlic cloves to the basic avakai recipe. I love the taste of garlic pickled in cucumbers. You can also use black chickpeas instead of garlic.
Avakai spice mix, pieces of soft butter and mango mixed and put in the pot.
Once the cucumber is cooked and stored in the jar, put the lid on, tie a cloth around the lid and do not open the jar for at least 3 days.
Avakai on the fourth day before and after adding oil.
On the fourth or fifth day, put the mango and cucumber in a large bowl. Mix well with a long, clean, dry ladle (leave ladle to dry in the sun for a few minutes). Add more oil so the cucumber is almost covered, that will help preserve it. When we produce large quantities, we take the cucumbers out of the jar and mix them up. If you make a small batch, you don’t have to remove the cucumber from the jar. Mix the contents of the pot with a long ladle, pour in the oil and put the lid on.
I have already blogged about dosavakaya (yellow cucumber) and important tips for cooking cucumber. These tips are useful for beginners.
Pickled mango and cucumber – andhra avakaya
As I write this post, I am reminded of my childhood, when my grandmother would lovingly feed us annam muddalu (rice balls of steamed rice, mudda papu, ghee and kotha avakai oota). It is pure, comforting and divine food. The tradition of preparing awakai is followed religiously in our country and I am proud that we are preserving our culinary heritage. Annadata Sukhbava!
Learn to prepare a recipe for marinated mango cucumber or awakai akawaya
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