Basially, almost all fruits and vegetables can be pickled and all countries use their choicest offerings to pickle. Pickles are made with or without sugar and are often seasoned with a fine mixture of spices. This mixture, which depends on personal preferences, is called the ‘pickling spice’. In Sri Lanka, the basic ingredients used to make the Sinhala achcharu are carrots, onion, beans, green chilli and capsicum. The pickling spice mixture is made with mustard and garlic submerged in vinegar, which holds the cheer together.
But how do they fuse to create the staple blend that forms the base of any Sri Lankan Pickle? The process begins with chillies, onion, green ginger and salt. Mustard seeds, chillies, garlic are ground and mixed with vinegar. The vinegar flavoured paste can also be infused with spices such as peppercorns, cinnamon sticks and cloves in addition to sugar.It is the ideal side dish for a hearty meal of rice and curry. The achcharu of Sri Lanka have been influenced by many foreign traders that visited the island centuries ago. Malay achcharu, which is sweeter in taste, is a perfect combination when eaten with biriyani.
The choice of spices and their quantities are what determine the final taste of the pickle or achcharu. Each household has their own hand-me- down recipes from their mothers and grandmas.
While vegetable achcharu adds a tangy taste to the meal, fruit achcharu make for an ideal snack.The pickling spice made to apply and flavour the fruit of your choice may include chilli, salt, sugar, pepper and cinnamon, yet it changes according to personal preference. From the country’s abundant natural bounty, there is mango, pineapple, amberalla and veralu to pick the pickle of the day.
For amberalla achcharu, wash raw amberalla well, peel the skin and slice it lengthwise. Then sauté it in vinegar till tender. Drain it, put it in a jar and then pour the pickling spice and immerse it. Once made, the achcharu is stored in an airtight dry glass jar. They should be left till the ingredients blend naturally in the mixture of vinegar to give the pickle an extra tang, as achcharu kept bottled in airtight jars earn more piquancy. It is prepared in such a manner to be savoured for a long period of time.
However, the power of the pickle has extended beyond the family doors. Today, pickled fruits are one of the favourite snacks on the streets with road sellers having a thriving trade in catering to the public the mouth-watering veralu and amberalla achcharu. While achcharu is also a crowd favourite at cultural events across the island.