Lemon PicklesLemon/Lime Pickles are quintessential to an Indian pantry and very quickly becoming so in non-Indian pantries as well. These delicious pickles spice up and brighten any meal with their cheery citrus flavor. They are of course second only after mango pickles to pair with the traditional Yogurt Rice or Non-Dairy Yogurt Rice as well as any dosa, upma, other snacks and sandwiches. Yes, I really do mean sandwiches! We particularly love lemon pickles with grilled cheese, cream/cottage cheese, and nut butter sandwiches. Some friends love their crackers or rice cakes spread with almond butter and topped with the lemon/lime pickles ;-D - Yum!
In India the citrus fruit variously referred to as "cheru naranga", "elumichai", or 'nimbu' in the languages of Malayalam, Tamil or Hindi are really Key limes and are often referred to as 'lemons' in English there. These and the many other types of citrus available there are made into various types of pickles.
Tahitian or Persian limes are similar to Key limes but are quite a bit bigger and seedless. Either type of limes may be used for pickling; if using Key limes, just increase the number as they are considerably smaller. Lime rinds take a bit longer to marinate and soften than lemons. Lemons with their thick, spongy and softer rinds are ready to use sooner; in fact picked lemons can be eaten right after making although they would be softer and more flavorful after curing for a few days.
If you are in a hurry and do not want to wait for the few days to ripen the pickle, follow the shortcut methods given in the recipe for Lemon/Lime pickles with Ginger and Chilies. The lemon/lime pieces can also be sauteed in the spicy oil mixture for a few minutes. All these methods offer quite satisfactory results.
When I make small quantities, I keep the pickles in the fridge. But for storing large quantities as well as gift giving, I can them. Although the process itself is called canning, glass jars specifically made for this purpose are used according to the manufacturers' directions. Canned pickles can be stored at room temperature and do not need refrigeration until after opening.
Sea Salt is the best type of salt for making pickles rather than iodized. Although plain sesame oil (available in Indian Markets and health food stores) is best for pickling in general, you may use other mild flavored vegetable oils with good results. The toasted Chinese sesame oil is not suitable for pickling.
This is a basic recipe for hot lemon pickles; feel free to adjust the spices up or down to suit your needs - especially the red chili powder.
6 Lemons/Limes or 8 - 12 Key Limes (about 4 cups)
1 Tbsp Sea Salt
2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1 tsp Mustard Seeds
1 Tbsp Fenugreek Seeds
1/2 tsp ground Turmeric
1 or 2 pinches Asafetida
2 Tbsp hot Red Chili powder (cayenne) or to taste
Scrub the limes/lemons thoroughly and rinse and dry. Cut them into small chunks; leave the seeds in or remove them as you wish. The seeds have pectin in them and will release the pectin which will thicken the pickles to a jam-like consistency eventually. Add the salt and mix well. The preparation can be done up to this point and saved in a jar a day or two ahead before proceeding with the next steps.
The lemons will exude a lot of their juices upon the addition of salt - this is normal - the process of osmosis in action. The spices and the pectin from the lemons/limes will thicken the pickles after a few days.
Heat the oil in a stainless steel pan and add the mustard seeds when hot; when they start popping, turn off the heat.
Immediately add asafetida and the fenugreek seeds swirling to coat and cook slightly; add the rest of the spices including the red chili powder and mix well.
Add the lime/lemon pieces and mix thoroughly.
Place in dry sterilized jars with lids and place them in bright sun for a few days. If placing in the sun is not possible, just keep on the counter top. Shake/stir daily so all the fruit is mixed with the juices and spices.
When the rinds and the fenugreek seeds have softened, in about a week or so, the pickle is ready to eat.
Keep the pickles in the fridge and use as desired. Enjoy!!