Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pickled Cucumber - Khalpi (खल्पी) Achaar

Discover the most unique and special kind of cucumber from Nepal

Pickled Cucumber - Khalpi (खल्पी) Achaar

In today's blog, I am introducing the most exotic, extremely rare and finest tasting cucumber from Nepal.  This variety of cucumber is called, bhadaure kankro (भदौरे काँक्रो), known in scientific journals as Cucumis sativus L.Var. Sikkimensis Hook.

What exactly is Nepali cucumber?  

Nepali cucumbers differ slightly from the varieties available in the United States and the other part of the world.  They are eaten fresh like the common green variety when they are young, but are also left on the vine to ripen further so that they can be made into pickles. These cucumbers look remarkably like a small watermelons, large and oblong and upon maturity, the cucumber develops a thick rusty red-brown skin with a pure white crispy flesh. Some people describe the skin to be like a brown cracked varnish.  The ripe fruit can grow large up to 14-16 inches long and 6-8 inches wide.  The cucumbers will keep for months when stored in cool area with good ventilation and good enough to make several batch of pickles.

These variety of common cucumber are native to the Himalayan mountain area of Nepal and Sikkim (India).  They are grown abundantly there. Sir Joseph Hooker, British botanists and explorers of the 19th century, first discovered it in the eastern Himalayas in 1848. Here is part of what he wrote about it in his journals: “So abundant were the fruits, that for days together I saw gnawed fruits lying by the natives’ paths by the thousands, and every man, woman and child seemed engaged throughout the day in devouring them.”

The spicy and crunchy pickled cucumbers that we call khalpi ko achaar plays a very important part in most Nepali households. It is eaten frequently with traditional Nepali meal of daal-bhaat-tarkaari combination, or it is just perfect to serve paired with bland afternoon snacks.

The khalpi ko achaar is so addicting, both in flavor, texture and color. Nepalese have been making this pickle for centuries using the same natural fermentation process.  They believe that any kind of fermented pickles are associated with great health benefits especially to improve digestive issues. After eating a spicy Nepali meals, the pickles are reported to help support proper digestion.  It also helps to minimize stomach bloating and provides soothing effect like Nepalese eating plain yogurt after spicy meals.

A must for a traditional part of "Dashain Feast, दशैं को भोज" - during the festival of Bijaya Dashami, when a large amount of meat (in various preparations), along with other rich, fatty and spicy festive foods are consumed, the pickled cucumber is served to provide cooling effect. 

Traditionally, the pickle is prepared and stored in an old-fashioned clay pot with wide mouth and a thick interior (maataa ko ghaito), which helps maintain cool temperature even during fermentation.  The wide mouth facilitates the packing in and pressing of the cucumber pieces.

Here is my easy recipe for making your own cucumber pickles. The following recipe has simple ingredients and quick preparation, so that you will end up with your delicious khalpi ko achaar in no time.  Grab some cucumbers, mustard seeds, red pepper, ground turmeric, green chilies, timmur and oil and let me show you how.....


1 large Nepali cucumber or 4 to 6 large unwaxed cucumbers (10-12 cups sliced)

1/4 cup brown mustard seeds, finely ground

1 1/2 tablespoon salt or to taste

1 tablespoon ground red pepper (cayenne pepper)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon szechwan pepper (timmur) finely ground with a mortar and pestle
10/12 green chili pepper (use according to your taste)

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

cheesecloth and kitchen twine

Halve the cucumbers lengthwise, scoop out and discard the mature seeds. Quarter each cucumber lengthwise and cut the quarters into 1-inch pieces.  Cover with cheesecloth and secure with kitchen twine.  Place the cucumbers in a single layer (skin-side down) on a tray.  Use two or three trays if needed.  Place the trays in the sun, and let the cucumber dry until all the excess moisture is removed and they are slightly wilted, 4 to 6 hours.  If sun is not out, dry them in the open air for the entire day (6 to 8 hours).


In a large bowl, combine the ground mustard seeds, salt, cayenne pepper, turmeric, green chilies and timmur.  Add 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the cucumbers and mix with your hands, making sure they are well coated with the spices.  Cover the bowl and set aside for 20 minutes.

Pack the cucumbers, one by one, into into clean 2 1/2-quart wide-mouth jar.  Push firmly until the jar is almost filled and there is no space between the cucumbers.  Leave 1/2 inch of space at the top of the jar and pour the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over the cucumbers.  If the jar is not packed properly, air pockets will develop leading to spoilage.

Cover the jar tightly with a lid, and place it outside in the direct sun for several days (but bring it indoors in the evening).  If the sun is not present, place the jar in a warm area and leave it to ferment.  The formation of gas bubbles indicates the fermentation is taking place.  The pickle is ready when the cucumbers are still crunchy with slightly sour taste.  Store in the refrigerator to avoid excess souring.  Always use a dry, clean spoon to remove the pickles from the jar. makes 10 cups.

Image of pickled bottle left in the sun - on the way to Panauti, Nepal
These are Asaare Kankro- असारे काँक्रो of Nepal- Common name: field cucumber, Bot. Name: Cucumis sativus L. - spreading, climbing or sometimes bushy, rough hairy, scabrous angular stemmed, monoecious summer annual with oblong and elongated fruit having scattered spines in the surface. It is usually grown under field conditions throughout Tarai and central hilly regions of Nepal and cultivated as early type cucumber available from end of May to June or July.  Source: Nepalese Food Plants
Sharing the picture of my home grown "exotic cucumber of Nepal" and enjoying giving friends gift of fruit.
Three jars of pickled cucumber, freshly fermented and ready to eat
Harvesting our home-grown cucumber of Nepal from our backyard garden. My husband and I and some of our friends have been successful growing our own Nepali variety of cucumber for making khalphi ko achaar. My husband saves cucumber seeds every year for next year's planting. He lets the healthy mature cucumber remain on the vine until the cold freeze comes in this area. Then he cuts the cucumber into half, removes the seeds and dries thoroughly before packing away. You can purchase the seeds from several seed company, such as Amishland Heirloom Rare Seeds.

Lately, I have been noticing that the Nepali variety of cucumber that we grow in our garden, when pickled, becomes softer and sour soon. Once my pickles are mixed with spices, I leave them in a warm sun for one day only for fermentation. Then I move the bottle for refrigeration, so that they will continue to ferment at a slow rate.  This way the pickle becomes less tart and will be preserved for more than one year.  One thing to remember is the longer you store the pickle, the texture, taste and color will slightly change. 


If you are a regular visitor to my blog, you will notice that I have been introducing unique vegetables that are grown and collected from the wilds in Nepal -- listed below are the link of my previous blog that you probably have gone through. They are Balsam Apple (barela - बरेला), Fiddlehead Fern (neuro - नीयूरो), Bauhinia (koiralo ko phool - कोइरालो), Pumpkin Shoots (pharsi ko munta - फर्सी को मुन्टा), Taro (karkalo-gaava-pidhaalu - कर्कलो-गाभा-पिँडालु), Tree Tomato (tyammatar - ट्यामटर), Ash Gourd (kubhindo - कुभिन्डो), Banana Blossom (kera ko bungo - केराको बुङ्गो), Luffa Gourd - gheeraula (घीरौला, पाटे घीरौला),  Pointed Gourd (parvar - परवर) and Chayote Squash (iskush - इस्कुश).