Pickles – This condiment literally tickles my palate. I LOVE pickles of any sort – sweet pickles, sour pickles, water pickles, candied pickles, fermented pickles, spicy pickles, tangy pickles. Pickles are vegetables or fruits soaked in solutions as a preservative. Be it European pickles that is acidic like the gherkins in brine and Kosher dill pickles or Far East’s fermented pickles like Kimchi and Japanese tsukemono with complex flavors. Likewise, Indian pickles have a myriad of spices and flavors. When citrus fruits are in season I make lemon/ lime pickle and preserve for later use.
Lemon pickle is commonly used in my household. I must say I’m the only pickle lover at home. I need any pickle with thayir sadam (plain yogurt rice). The husband cares less. It’s time-consuming (about 2-3 weeks) to yield the desired outcome, but takes less than an hour to put together. I make tonnes of pickle during summer and savor it throughout the year. Usually, I make the south Indian style pickles. Difference being the oil used for tempering and the spices used for seasoning. South Indians use sesame oil, while north Indians use mustard oil. Each impart a distinct flavor and aroma to the final output. Price wise, It costs half the price you’ll spend outside.
Winter or rainy season isn’t a good time for pickling. That’s been my experience. The brined fruits grew mold/ fungus and eventually I had to bin it all. I guess it’s due to the temperature. If prepared properly, this pickle stays well for months or even beyond a year. I use the slow sun cooked method over the steaming short cut method. There are gazillion methods to pickle lemons. Since this one works for me, I’ve been making lemon pickle this way for past 4 summers. It’s been good thus far. I do not refrigerate this pickle. It stays well outside in the pantry. If you want to play safe, refrigeration is highly recommended. Last but not the least, you need patience to enjoy this pickle. Do not hurry the process to avoid disappointment. Long story short. Here’s the recipe and instructions.
Yields 2-3 medium-sized bottles or 1 large bottle. Takes about 2 weeks.
- 10 lemons, preferably unwaxed and organic. * If using Indian yellow limes that’s small in size, use 15. Yellow limes are not lemons. Since people in India use the word lime and lemon interchangeably, I’ve given that option.
- 1/2 cup rock salt or 1/2 sea salt or 1/2 cup kosher salt 1/4 cup table salt. I prefer using salt without iodine.
- 1/2 cup organic red chilli powder. I use ground Guntur dried red chillies. Reduce amount as preferred.
- 1 tsp organic turmeric powder
- 2 tsp organic fenugreek/ methi seeds, roasted and ground
- 1/4 tsp asafoetida/ hing powder
- 3/4 cup cold pressed sesame/ gingelly oil
- 1 tbsp organic black mustard seeds
- 1 tbsp organic cane sugar *optional. It balances the tart flavor.
Other items needed
- Sterilized bottles. I use mason jars or recycled glass bottles.
- A large bowl
- Wooden or steel ladle
- Choose lemons without blemishes, cuts or bruises. Bruised ones have broken skin integrity that will lead to rotting. Experience, you know! Look for ones that feel heavy for its size. Plump ones have more juice and a thick peel. Wash and wipe lemons dry with a dry cloth or kitchen towel. I use 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar mixed in 2 quarts of tap water to wash all vegetables and fruits. Moisture will cause mold/ fungus growth. If possible, dry lemons in the sun for about an hour.
- Using a clean knife and chopping board quarter the lemons. Chop each quarter into 2-3 pieces. Save the lemon juice that drips while chopping. In a dry bowl, add chopped lemons along with the juice.
- Add salt, red chilli powder, turmeric powder and sugar to the chopped lemon. Mix well using the dry ladle. Mix well. Portion it between bottles. If you use a one big bottle, layer the chopped lemon and spices one on top of another. Secure the bottle lid tight. Shake well for the spices and lemon pieces to mix well.
- Place jars or bottles under direct sun for 5-6 hours a day for about 10 days to 2 weeks. First day ,you’ll notice lemons ooze a lot of juice. The volume would reduce and lemon pieces may settle down. Shake the bottle a couple of times to mix all ingredients evenly. As days go by, you’ll notice the texture of lemon soften, color changes and volume reduces.
- Once the lemon pieces are brined in spices and salt, it’s ready for tempering. That sums up the whole process before enjoying these mouth-watering condiment.
- Heat sesame oil in a wok/ kadai. Raw smell has to dissipate. Don’t burn the oil. Add mustard seeds and let it sputter. Turn off the heat. Remove wok and let it sit for 3-5 minutes. Add asafoetida and fenugreek powder. Let the oil cool completely to room temperature.
- Open the bottle(s). There will minimal pressure built up inside the bottles. Gently unscrew the lid. Add cooled tempered oil to the lemon pieces. Give a good stir. Lemon pieces should be completely submerged in oil. Oil seals the air off the lemon preventing spoilage.
- I cover the lid space with a piece of cling wrap. Close the lid tight and store for later use. I make 3-4 small bottles and use one at a time. As it ages, the pickle tastes better.
- For serving, always use a clean dry spoon. Moisture from wet spoons will spoil the pickle. As mentioned earlier, refrigeration is a safe bet.
- Enjoy these pickled lemon with rice and curry ! I do not prefer this pickle with parathas and rotis. I like the stuffed green chilli pickle for that. Recipe coming soon!
Every Indian household has an array of pickles, homemade or store-bought to complete a full meal. I always make extra bottles to give away as gifts to friends visiting us. These tangy and salty treats make perfect gifts. Is there anything better than a home-made edible gift?
Q and A
1. Why home-made pickles when you can pick a bottle from the store?
A : I prefer home-made pickles as these are void of preservatives, artificial colors and excess salt. Each batch I make has the exact taste while the color and appearance is slightly different. That’s not the case with store-bought pickles. To achieve a consistent outcome, stabilizers and preservatives. Since I get better results without questionable preservatives, I shall stick to my method.
2. Why there is no vinegar in this recipe?
A : Vinegar is ideally used for pickles that’s not fermented like kosher dill pickles used in sandwiches. Vinegar also prevent the growth of microorganisms or embalm. However, in this recipe the acidic lemon juice and salt acts as the preservative. Salt also aids in extracting flavors from the fruits or vegetables used for pickling.
3. Is oil needed for this recipe?
A : You can omit oil if you wish. Oil helps the spices adhere to the lemon pieces. It also gives a thick consistency to the finished product. The infused oil can be used for cooking.
4. What are the variations for this spice base and pickling method?
A : I’ve used the same method and spices for making lime pickle, Meyer lemon pickle, mango pickle, ginger pickle, garlic pickle, mango ginger pickle, green chilli pickle, turmeric root pickle, gooseberry pickle, tomato pickle.