Saucier than a pickle, chunkier than a sauce, smoother than chutney and as fierce as you wish to make it, relish is rooted in Subcontinental history.
Usually served as a condiment — an accompaniment to another food whose taste it enhances — research indicates that relishes were ‘invented’ by ever-industrious Punjabi housewives seeking different methods and recipes for preserving gluts of seasonal vegetables over 500 years ago. These wise women always had an eye on long-term food security, saving, out of necessity, summer bounty for use during colder winter days.
That the ancestors of modern courgettes (plus, cucumbers which can replace courgettes in the recipe provided below) came in for the relish treatment is no surprise. As anyone who has ever grown them will testify, these crops can be incredibly abundant, to put it mildly!
Courgettes, with their peel on (many of the vitamins and minerals contained in courgettes are in the skin), contain vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6 and vitamin A, along with small amounts of potassium, manganese, magnesium, folate, copper, thiamin, phosphorous, sugar and fibre. Being low in fats and carbohydrates, they are a dieter’s best friend and can also assist in reducing high blood pressure.
Being a somewhat bland vegetable, courgettes, tend to take on the flavour/s of whichever other vegetable, herb or spice they are cooked/processed with and, in the case of relish-making, it is the mustard and/or red chillies which give the finished product its distinctive bite.
Relish, rooted in Subcontinental history, is healthy and can be oh-so-delicious
As with all recipes, listed ingredients are only a basic guideline and it is entirely up to the cook how she/he chooses to dress it up, absolutely personalising it in the process.
The relish recipe provided has optional red chilli powder/flakes but chopped fresh red chillies can be used — or green ones — instead. Or, if preferred or for a change of taste, chillies can be totally omitted, leaving pungent mustard to dominate. Other herbs and spices to add or subtract include: whole black/white zeera, saunf, dill, onion or kalonji seeds, cinnamon bark/stick, green cardamom pods, whole black peppercorns, oregano, crushed garlic and/or ginger.
(Makes approximately 4 x 500g jars) 1.5 kg courgettes (or cucumbers) 3 large onions Half cup salt For the sauce 2 cups vinegar (apple cider vinegar is best) Half cup aata 1.750 kg sugar 1 teaspoon haldi (turmeric) 3 teaspoons mustard powder 1 teaspoon red chilli powder/flakes (optional)
Wash the courgettes and then slice them quite thinly. In a large bowl, put a layer of courgette slices, sprinkle them with plenty of salt, add a layer of peeled, thinly sliced onions, sprinkle with salt and then a layer of courgettes sprinkled with salt. Keep on layering and salting until all of the courgettes, onions and salt are used up. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave to stand for about one hour.
Next, drain off the liquid that has been drawn out of the courgettes and onions by the salt. Wrap the salted courgette and onion slices in a clean cloth and set aside while making the sauce.
Put the vinegar, sugar, turmeric, mustard powder and red chilli, if used, in a saucepan, and slowly bring to a simmering point, stirring all the time. Next, slowly stir in the aata and keep stirring until the sauce forms a smooth sauce. Reduce heat slightly. Stir in the salted courgette and onion slices a handful at a time. Cook for approximately 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent sticking.
Ladle, being careful not to burn your fingers, the hot relish into preheated sterilised jars. Lay a cut to fit a circle of waxed/greaseproof paper directly on top of the relish and press lightly into place using the back of a spoon. This paper helps to exclude air and maintains hygiene which, in turn, increases the ‘shelf-life’ of the finished product. Then cover the filled jars with a clean cloth to exclude air and insects. Leave to stand until the jars have cooled down completely and only then screw on the jar lids. If you put the lids on before the jars have cooled down, condensation forms inside the lid and can result in the formation of mould.
Store the sealed jars in a relatively cool, dark, place. The relish is ready for eating after two weeks and unopened jars should store for at least six months, and up to as long as two years.
Serve with cheese, kebabs, salads, fish dishes or use on sandwiches or crackers.
Published in Dawn, EOS, June 28th, 2020