My Left Hand


This was supposed to be an article about Chili Lime Pickle. I was eager to make my own version of this popular Indian food accompaniment. Instead, I ended up in the emergency room.

I set myself up for this bad karma. Yesterday, I went to Bombay Grocer in Ann Arbor. There were two women outside wearing white dresses and covered in colored paint, giggling and taking photos of each other. “It’s the Festival of Colors!” they told me.

The Festival of Colors, or “Holi,” is a Hindu celebration of spring. Commoners mingle with the upper crust, joyfully throwing colored powder on one another, mending old harms and anticipating good things to come. After admiring the happy display outside, I went into Bombay, picked up my ingredients for Chili Lime Pickle, and an impulse item at the counter, a couple of their outstanding samosas. The clerk was covered in color himself. Trying to fool me, he said, “Oh no! Someone spilled colored powder on me!” I told him I was hip to the Festival of Colors, having learned about it five solid minutes ago. Then he looked down at my purchases and a frown came over him, as he eyed the fifteen limes I’d placed on the counter. “Did you take all the limes?” he asked. I confessed that I did. Slightly grouchy, he commiserated with the other clerk, and eventually allowed me to clean out his stock.

I wasn’t able to start the Chili Lime Pickle last night, but started in on it today. It’s a two-step process; first to marinate the cut limes with most of the ingredients, then to add hot seeds before tossing everything in the pickling jars.

I sharpened a knife before cutting the limes, and as a portent of worse things to come, nicked a knuckle on my left hand. I washed my hand. It still bled a little, but not too bad. I managed to finish the first part of the recipe and headed back to Bombay Grocer, because I had forgotten to buy fenugreek seeds. The same clerk waited on me and noticed the blood on my hand. I told him I cut myself, and it was bad karma, because I’d cleaned out his lime supply the day before. He laughed and rang up my purchase. As he did so, I added another impulse item at the counter - a small box of tamarind candy.

I couldn’t wait to eat that candy. I picked at the box on the way home, but it had a stubborn ring of tape around it. When I got home, I got out that same knife. Yes, I realized it was sharp, and that I had nicked myself not 30 minutes before - but I wanted those tamarind gumdrops. I poked at the tape, casually reminding myself to be careful.

There’s not a cook alive who doesn’t have scars to show, usually on the left hand. I have a few stitches there, and a few more scars I didn’t see a doctor about.

One time, I applied for a cooking position with a fancy restaurant in town. The chef wanted to see my knife skills, and set me up with a bunch of parsley, warning me that the knives were just sharpened.

Another time I hosted a Super Bowl party and roasted a turkey. I brought out my brand-new Cutco carving set.

Let’s just say ... nobody ate that parsley, or the turkey. Picture Dan Ackroyd playing Julia Child on Saturday Night Live, and we’ll leave it at that. (On the bright side, the Steelers won the Super Bowl.)

Back to the present. Did I ever taste that tamarind candy? Not before a trip to urgent care, a tetanus shot, several stitches, and disrupting my wife’s beauty sleep. Before retiring, she took the candy from me and insisted on opening it herself. Man, that was some good stuff. I had a few pieces while I finished making the Chili Lime Pickle, which will soon be sunning itself on the window sill.

The moral of this story is easy. Before attempting Chili Lime Pickle, please make sure you have enough fenugreek seeds on hand.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. Follow him at @nickroumel.


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