The Indian gooseberry, called Nellikai (in Tamil), Nellika (in Malayalam), Amla (in Hindi) and by many other names in the different languages across India has a lot of importance especially because of the medicinal properties attributed to it. It is known to be a very rich source of Vitamin C in its natural and dehydrated form.
It is not surprising that the Indian gooseberry also features in folk tales and legends. According to one story, this fruit is supposed to have been formed from the drops of Amrith that accidentally spilled and fell to earth when the Gods and Demons were fighting over the Amrit after churning it. As a result, there is a religious belif in some parts of the country that the Indian gooseberry can cure most illnesses and also increase the longevity of life.
It is also told that when Adi Shanakaracharya, as a small boy, went seeking alms (bhiksha) on the auspicious Dwadashi day, he was given a gooseberry by the lady at one particular house as that is all she had to offer. In return, he composed and recited the Kanakadhara Sthothram (a Hindu prayer) asking the Godess Lakshmi to bless the household with wealth.
This fruit also features in a story about Avvaiyar, one of the famous Tamil poetess who lived during Sangam period of Indian history.. There is a story told King Athiyaman who ruled during this period. He was apparently offered the gooseberry as a fruit with magical powers that would grant eternal life. The King, a supposedly wise man and a patron of the arts, decided that the life of a poet was worth more than his own and offered the fruit to Avvaiyar. The story isn’t quite clear on what Avvaiyar did with the fruit!
As I mentioned in a previous post, the three of us at home don’t particularly like Nellikai or Amla, as Indian gooseberries are known. I do like them pickled though, whether in brine or in oil with chilli powder and spices the way Indian pickles are made.
I do generally like most Indian style pickles so long as they’re not very spicy, they don’t have a lot of garlic in them (except for a garlicky yam pickle my cousin used to make), or are made in mustard oil. I neither like the smell of mustard oil, nor have I quite acquired a taste for it yet and doubt I ever will.
The recipe below is somewhat typical in that it uses all the spices that usually go into spicy pickles that are made in the part of the world I come from. The amounts of the spices are indicative and not absolute but it would be better to keep to approximately the amounts suggested except for the chilli powder which one can adjust to suit one’s taste for “heat”
I have given a range for the oil to be used because oil (along with the salt) acts as a preservative. This is more so here because the gooseberries have moisture and so the pickle can spoil easily. I f there is enough oil to cover the gooseberry pieces, the pickle will last longer. You can use 1/3 a cup if you want to use less oil, as this is a small batch of pickle and should keep refrigerated for a couple of weeks.
Nellikai Urugai/ Indian Gooseberry Pickle – South Indian Style.