Dish: Mango Pickle
Cooking in Nashville since 2014
When it comes to “dirty pages,” Maneet Chauhan’s recipe is messy in a “meta” sort of way.
Her grandmother’s journals, written in a mix of Hindi and English, are splattered with oil and smudged with spice, just as Maneet’s photocopies of the journal pages are splattered, smudged, and crinkled in yet another layer.
“She had all of these book—diaries,” Maneet explains. “I asked my cousin, could you photocopy these and send it to me?”
The chef and owner at Chauhan Ale & Masala House references the recipes both in her restaurant kitchen and at home—especially when it comes to mango pickle and the fond memories the process brings.
“Every summer, I make some pickles,” she says. “I tell my daughter the stories. Those are the dirty pages.”
As a kid, Maneet says the warm months in India meant mango.
“My grandmom and granddad lived in Punjab, and they would come to visit us during the summers,” she says. “We had two mango trees in our backyard. I was this small obnoxious kid, and I wasn’t allowed to climb trees. But grandmom supersedes mom. So I would climb trees when she visited, and we would collect the mangos for pickling in cloth bags.”
They took the bags to the farmers’ market where a vendor chopped the fruit. Then they would take the fruit home to wash it and dry it in the sun before mixing it with spices and covering it with oil.
“Every morning, religiously, we would put it out in the sun,” she says. “Then at night, we would take it back in again, for over a week.”
Food was always a source of fascination, study, and pleasure for Maneet.
“I would go to the neighbors and say my mom hadn’t given me anything to eat,” she says, hoping that the neighbors would feed her, too. “It was not only the food. It was the entire process.”
She would perch herself by the countertop cooking stoves used in India to see and ask “why.”
“I used to be that obnoxious ‘why’ kid, but it was about the food and the ingredients,” she says.
Though Maneet often cooks by feel and on the fly now, she grew up around family members who cherished and relied on following recipes. Recipes were recorded and collected such as family favorites like a peach praline cake from The Joy of Cooking.
“It’s so funny because my oldest sister and I sit and talk about experiences of our lives, which we’ve probably gone through together,” Maneet says. “She has no recollection of food, and she has a recollection of everything else. And the only recollection I have is of food. My uncle and aunt’s weddings? I can probably tell you the entire menu. I look at the world though food.”