Mama’s Punjabi Recipes: Khatta Mittha Achaar (Sweet & Sour Pickle)


By popular demand from many readers, this is a reprint of Mama’s khatta mittha achaar recipe, but with some additional information and directions.

Achaars (pickles) of all types are popular all over the world but the ones made in India and neighboring countries are different because they are oil-based. Other South Asian countries have their own version of spicy condiments, like the Szechuan Chilli Oil or Malaysian Sambal. The same achaars can be found all over India, like amb da achaar (mango pickle) or punchranga achaar (five item pickle), though the spices and ingredients may change from region to region.

For example, the mango pickle from South India – where til ka tael (sesame oil) is preferred – can taste very different from the one made in North India, where they prefer to use sarsoan ka tael (mustard oil). In Tamil Nadu, the mango pickle is called maavadu and is made with arendee ka tael (castor oil). The same mango pickle in Karnataka is very salty and sour, while in Telangana and Andra Pradesh, it is made with garlic and ginger and in Gujarat, it is made with groundnut oil and saunf (fenugreek) seeds. There are even pickled meat achaars, like lamb and chicken, and fish like anchovies and shrimp.

But, as far as I can tell, khatta mittha achaar is unique to the Punjab, and has been a staple pickle in many villages. Because it is made with many vegetables – cauliflower, carrots, turnips and onions – it sometimes even takes the place of a dish and is eaten with roti. I still remember when my grandmother would make it in our ancestral home in Lyallpur (now called Faisalabad). It was usually made in the winter time because the gur (jaggery) used as an ingredient gives added energy during the cold months. And it was stored in large wide-mouthed pots with a lid tightened down with a piece of cloth.

For real authentic taste, khatta mittha achaar  should be made with sarsoan ka tael (mustard seed oil) which gives it a heavy pungent aroma, and there is no need to use any haldi (turmeric). Mustard oil has many benefits, including for the heart and in India is often used for massages and as a hair oil, just as nariyal ka tael (coconut oil) is used.  

Khatta mittha achaar can be stored for a long time without refrigeration, as long as the vegetables are dry before cooking and you do not use any water. The longer the vegetables stay in the jar and soak in the spices, the tastier the achaar will become!


1 medium sized phul gobi (cauliflower)
1 kg gajjar (carrots)
1 kg shalgum (turnips)
1 large pyaaz (onion)
100 gm adrak (fresh ginger root)
50 gm lasan (fresh garlic cloves)
150 gm gur (jaggery)
1 cup safaid sirka (white vinegar)
100 gm rai (rye)
250 gm sarsoan ka tail (mustard seed oil) or any other you prefer
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp deggi mirch (red pepper) – if not available, use red pepper powder
Namak (salt) to taste


1. Peel the cauliflower, carrots and turnips; cut them into medium pieces; wash them and set aside to drip dry.
2. Peel the onions, garlic and ginger; throw them into a blender or mixee and mince them into a paste.
3. In a medium sized pot, heat the oil over medium and put in the onion, garlic and ginger paste, stirring till it is medium brown.
4. Take the paste off the heat; let it cool down slightly and then add the red pepper and garam masala. If you use deggi mirch (a type of red pepper powder), it will add color to the achaar.
5. Rub the cut vegetables with a towel to make sure they are completely dry before using.
6. Now pour the cut vegetables into the paste and stir, adding the salt. Break the gur (jaggery) into small pieces and add into the mixture, along with the vinegar. Crush the rye and add two tablespoons. Stir well to coat all the vegetables.
7. When the entire mixture is completely cool, place in a glass jar and close the lid tightly and let it stand alone for a week, shaking occasionally, so that the vegetables can cure. In 8 to 9 days, the achaar will be ready to eat.
Quick Tip: IIf you want to make the achaar faster, then place the vegetables in boiling water for five minutes. Take out of the water and place the vegetables on a cloth in the air and dry the water completely off. Now place them in the paste (step 3) and continue. The achaar will be ready to eat in much less time.




In the old days, before refrigeration, we would take great care that vegetables and other dishes would not go bad quickly, especially during the hot summer months. This was all done naturally and we would learn what to look out for so that the food wouldn’t spoil, or that its life could be extended.

One of the most important things to remember is that water in foods or and especially achaars (pickles) can shorten their life. Make sure that the vegetables used in achaars like khatta mittha achaar  (sweet and sour pickle) or amb da achaar (mango pickle) are dry because any water left on them will shorten the achaar’s shelf life and cause it to spoil. Water is a pickle’s worst enemy!



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Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur (since renamed Faisalabad), India before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her mid-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share some of her delectable Punjabi recipes.