For as long as I can remember, gongura pachhadi (sorrel leaves pickle), an Andhra delicacy famous for its tangy and spicy taste, has been my favourite pickle; the combination of piping hot rice, ghee, and some pachhadi tastes like heaven. I have fond memories of childhood when my mother and the neighbourhood ladies would assemble beneath the gooseberry tree in our back yard, spread a mat under the sky on a full-moon night, the auspicious Karthika Pournami, and eat rice mixed with gongura pachhadi and other delicacies, an annual tradition. I am lucky that my husband and children also share my love for the pachhadi, although my mother-in-law prepares a slightly different version, using green chillies rather than red.
Pickle making was an elaborate affair when I was growing up. We lived in a colony of central government employees, each house with a huge back yard. Most often, the process was a combined effort, with the neighbourhood ladies pitching in to help. After the pickle was ground and emptied into a bowl, my mother would mix some leftover rice in the grindstone to soak up the last bits of pachhadi. She would roll it into small balls and hand them out and we kids would wait eagerly for this, often fighting for more. My mother does it even today.
At home, the task of plucking the sorrel leaves from their stems was the job of the kids; my sisters and I would sit long hours doing this. Afterwards, we would stick the bare stems into the soil in our back yard; these would grow into plants months later.
After marriage, when we visited my husband’s village every year during Dussehra and Sankranthi, knowing our fondness for the pachchadi, my father-in-law used to pluck sorrel leaves from the plants bordering our fields, and my mother-in-law would prepare the pickle and even pack some in a couple of bottles for us to carry back. In fact, she was known for her cooking prowess, and many happy friends would carry a bottle of pachchadi back with them after a visit.
With tips from my mother, I have customised the gongura pachhadi to my liking. There are two types of gongura: the red-stemmed and the green-stemmed variety. I prefer the latter. At home, I keep handy a ready mix of red chillies ground with salt and turmeric in the refrigerator, and use it whenever needed. This is what I put in my gongura pachhadi, which makes the process quicker. Now, it’s my sisters who carry back bottles of my pachhadi with them.
Gongura pickle is a must in every Andhra home, mandatory during all ceremonies and family reunions. Apart from being delicious, sorrel leaves are an excellent source of folate, vitamin C, B6 and A, and a rich source of calcium, iron and zinc. In addition, the leaves are also famously used in dishes like gongura mutton (a tangy mutton dish) and the more basic but healthy gongura pappu (sorrel leaves dal).
9-10 bunches of sorrel leaves/ gongura leaves
2 tsp oil
15-20 dried red chillies or green chillies
10 fenugreek seeds
7-8 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 1/2 tsp urad dal
1/2 tsp channa dal
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
Salt to taste
1 chopped onion — optional
1. Pluck the sorrel leaves, wash thoroughly and keep aside to dry. In a wok, heat 1 tbsp of oil, add the sorrel leaves, cook till they become soft and remove the leaves into a bowl. In the same wok, add 1 tsp of oil, fenugreek seeds, red chillies and coriander seeds, sauté for a minute and remove from heat.
2. After the spices cool down, add them and the garlic cloves to the blender and blend well. Add the sorrel leaves to the blended spices. Add salt and blend roughly. Put the pachhadi into a bowl.
3. Take a pan and add 1 tsp oil for tempering. Add four-five dried red chillies, urad dal, channa dal, and mustard seeds. Stir well till the mustard pops, then add a few curry leaves.
4. Temper the pickle.
5. Optionally, chopped onion can be added to the pickle just before tempering. But do this only for a small quantity before eating. Seal the rest in airtight container.
The civil engineer has been a freelance writer for the past 15 years.