Lemon pickle is one of my favorite accompaniments to Indian food. Its savory, salty, tangy bite is the perfect thing to go with a fullflavored, hit you upside the head lamb curry, or just the thing to spice up a plain, fragrant bowl of basmati rice.
There are as many recipes for lemon pickle as there are Indian cooks, and since I am not blessed with an Indian mother, I am free to wander. Nik Sharma’s Spiced Lemon Pickle from his great new cookbook Seasons: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food appealed to me, though, of course, I needed to play with the recipe a bit.
Quick Lemon Pickle
First of all, I have halved the recipe because 2 pounds worth of lemons seemed like an enormous commitment. I also added cumin and mustard seeds because I like them and thought they would add another dimension of flavor. You can leave them out if you wish. Oh, and I reduced the suggested two tablespoons of red chili flakes by half. Please make this recipe your own; I certainly have. Okay, and I made a mix of lemon and limes because a) that is what I had, and b) I think it pretty.
This is a quick, easy and flavorful lemon and lime pickle, only requiring you to wait for 1 week until you can serve it up.
Lemon Pickle Recipe (Nimbu ka Achar)
- 1 pound lemons ~ Ideally organic and Meyer lemons OR limes
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice ~ Or lime juice
- 5 tablespoons fine sea or table salt ~ Substitutions, see Notes below
- 1 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons asafetida (hing) ~ Optional but recommended
- 1 1/2 teaspoon nigella seeds ~ Optional
- 1 1/2 teaspoon carom seeds (ajwain) ~ Optional, see Notes below for more spicing ideas
- 2 tablespoons Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Substitutions
- 5 teaspoons sugar
- 1 1/4 cups neutral oil ~ Or enough to cover the fruit
- Sterilize a one-quart jar (with a tight-fitting lid) and the equipment you will be using: a cutting board, long-handled spoon, a large bowl, a small pan for toasting the spices, glass measuring cup, and measuring spoons.
- Wash and dry the lemons or limes and cut off each end to remove the thickened rind. Then cut into 8 equal pieces, removing the center white pith, and deseed. Mix the lemon pieces, lemon juice, and salt together and place in the jar. Let sit for 30 minutes.
- While the lemons are pondering their fate, measure out all the seeds you are using, and the carom (ajwain) seeds. (Do not toast the asafetida, Kashmiri chili, or nigella seeds.) In a small pan, add 1 tablespoon of oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the seeds and just bring to a sizzle; about 1 minute. Cool and mix in the nigella seeds, if using, chili powder or flakes, asafetida (hing), and sugar.
- Transfer the spices to the jar of lemons, add the oil, or enough to cover the lemons. Seal and shake to mix everything thoroughly. If you have a fermentation weight, that would come in useful to keep the citrus from popping above the surface of the oil.
- Place in a cool dark place and give the jar a good shake once a day for a week. Open the jar and make sure that the oil is covering the lemons. If you need to, press the lemons under the surface of the oil. If you have a pickle weight, this is the time to use it. You can use the lemon pickle now, but I think it really comes into its own in the 3rd week. Store in the refrigerator after the 2nd week, up to 2 months.
- Before serving, bring the pickle to room temperature before serving; about 10 minutes. Be sure to use a clean dry spoon to scoop out the pickle.
- Water promotes spoilage so make sure your cutting board, lemons and the knife you are using are dry.
- Feel free to substitute limes for lemons for this lemon pickle recipe.
- Additional flavoring ideas:
- 1 tablespoon toasted fennel or anise seeds
- sub out a tablespoon of salt with rock salt (sendha namak).
- substitute 2 tablespoons of the oil with mustard oil
- add 10 curry leaves and temper with the whole seeds
- Any leftover oil is perfect for flavoring rice, salad dressings, and roasting vegetables.