My grandmother took the lid off the tall bharani (white clay jar) and ladled out a generous serving of Irumban Puli (Bilimbi) pickle into a steel bowl. “See if it is ready. I pickled it only last week“, she said. It was a summer in the early 90s. Four of us cousins stood there drooling at the Irumban Puli (Bilimbi) Pickle. It was fragrant and colourful. We grabbed the plate from her hand and ran away shouting “It is ready, it is ready!!” It was always ready.
Bilimbi or tree sorrel is a tropical tree commonly found across the warmest regions of Asia. Bilimbi fruit (Irumban Puli in Malayalam) is sour and acidic in taste.
While growing up in Kerala, this was a fruit for the summer vacations. We’ll pluck them fresh from the tree and eat it with a sprinkle of salt. The sourness made our faces pucker but that didn’t stop us. It was only one of the perks of visiting our grandparents during the summer. We had a ton of fresh, seasonal fruits to devour – mangoes, cashew apples, jackfruit, champakkas, lubikas, and black plums (jamun). The abundance of these produce meant various methods to consume them. The sweet fruits were preserved as jams while the sour ones made it into pickles and curries. Irumban Puli pickle was one of our favourites.
This Irumban Puli (Bilimbi) pickle is all about the nostalgic flavours that you can never forget! The sourness of bilimbi and the heat from the chilli powder makes this a mouthwatering pickle.
This recipe is inspired by one such Irumban Puli (Bilimbi) pickle. Irumban Puli (Bilimbi) is quartered lengthwise, salted, and sun-dried before adding the spices. That’s the only time-consuming step in the entire process.
Make this pickle the next time you get hold of some bilimbi. If you are in a hurry, you can skip drying them in the sun and directly pickle them.
Irumban Puli pickle goes well with rice and your favourite curry. I enjoy it with fish curry or sambhar with some crispy poppadums. Make an Irumban Puli (Bilimbi) this season. You can easily store it for a couple of months. But in practice, the jars are polished off in a few days!
Irumban Puli (Bilimbi) Pickle
- 30 bilimbi (irumban puli)
- to taste salt
- 3 tablespoons gingelly oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1/4 tablespoon turmeric powder
- 1/4 teaspoon asafoetida powder
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
To roast and powder
- 1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon Urad daal
- Wash the irumban puli (bilimbi) in running water, and dry with a cloth.
- Slice them lengthwise into four pieces, season with salt, mix well and spread them on a plate.
- Note: Don't use steel or other metal plates. The acidity will discolour the plate.
- Keep the plate in sunlight to dry the salted bilimbi.
- If you are in a hurry, skip the sun-drying and pickle directly. In that case, skip the next 3 steps.
- You'll notice the colour of the irumban puli (bilimbi) changing to light green/yellow.
- The salt and the heat from the sunlight will start to dry the bilimbi slices. Keep it covered overnight.
- Next day, keep the plate in sunlight again.
- Roast the fenugreek seeds and the ural dal in a pan.
- Switch off when they start to turn brown, allow it to cool, and powder it and keep it aside.
- Heat gingelly oil in a pan, and splutter some mustard seeds.
- Lower the flame, add the powdered mixture, chili powder, turmeric powder and asafoetida.
- Slowly stir for a minute and turn off the flame. Ensure that you don't burn this mix.
- Add curry leaves and the sun-dried irumban puli, mix well until they get a good coat of the masala mix.
- Once the pickle has cooled down, transfer to a clean, dry bottle.
- Drizzle the pickle with some more gingelly oil on the top, and keep the bottle in the fridge.
- You can start using the pickle after 3-4 days. If you can't wait, just for it!