When I visited Jamie Oliver’s shop Recipease in London a few years ago, I stumbled upon his Red Onion Pickle, which as he says, is perfect on a cheese toastie or grilled cheese — sweet and vinegary concentrated goodness in a small teaspoon. As soon as Sean and I spread it on some French bread, topped it with cheese and stuck it under the broiler, we were hooked. The thickness of the French crusty loaf with oozing buttery sharp cheddar was a great foil for the sugary, vinegary, spiciness of the red onion pickle. When I returned to London last summer, I must admit that I bought 3 bottles of it, along with his special mustard and ketchup, and brought the whole lot with me back to New York City. Nearly every cuisine in the world has its own unique condiments of jams, jellies, preserves, chutneys, and pickles, from Korea’s kimchi of fermented cabbage and red chilli to Britain’s ‘Major Grey Chutney’ that combines mango, raisins, vinegar, lime, onion, tamarind and spices.
As you can imagine, Indian cuisine has a great variety of jams, jellies, preserves, chutneys and pickles — in fact, I believe “chutney” originated in India and spread around the globe. The combinations and permutations are endless and recipes differ from family to family, never mind from region to region. India is a subcontinent whose land size is the same as continental Europe, so the variations are plenty. Have you ever heard of a thick, glossy-looking jam called “thokku”? In South India, ‘mango thokku’ is the king of all thokkus because it showcases the sharp freshness of raw green mangoes. The sourness of the mangoes is balanced with salt, red chillies, and jaggery (palm sugar). As I was savoring my Jamie Oliver-inspired cheese toastie with red onion pickle, I remembered eating countless cheese sandwiches spread with mango thokku when growing up in Canada. Just like any pickle, jam or chutney, the beauty lies in the concentrated intensity of flavors of the individual ingredients. My grandparents owned a mango farm in South India and my mom fondly remembers making mango thokku using fresh mangoes within hours of being picked. As she explains it, “only good quality mangoes were used in preparations like thokku, where the whole intention was to preserve them for a long time.” She would sit on the floor with my grandmother and examine the fresh green mangoes for any blemishes, bruises and choose only the very best ones.
Sweet & Sour Green Mango Jam: South Indian ‘Mango Thokku’
- 3 medium-sized green mangoes, peeled & cored and cut into small pieces (the mangoes should not be ripe)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon finely ground chilli powder OR 5-6 dry red chillies
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon asafetida (hing)
- 1 teaspoon jaggery (or dark brown sugar)
- Puree the mango, salt, and red chilli powder in a food processor without water.
- Heat oil and black mustard seeds in a saucepan on a medium flame — cover tightly with a matching lid. You will begin to hear the mustard seeds popping. Once the popping has stopped, add asafetida (hing), stir quickly to combine well.
- Add the pureed mango mixture and keep stirring.
- Add jaggery or dark brown sugar and sauté on low heat for 30 minutes until it’s completely cooked — you will know this once the oil is absorbed and begins rising to the top, making the thokku look shiny and glossy.