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.
See the Notes below before you cook.
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 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon carom seeds (ajwain)
- 5 teaspoons Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Substitutions
- 1 1/4 cups neutral oil ~ Or enough to cover the fruit
- Sterilize a one-quart jar (with a tight-fitting lid).
- 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. 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 chili powder or flakes.
- 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 here.
- 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 week 3. 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 tsp nigella seeds, 1/2 tsp asafetida (hing), 1 tbsp toasted fennel or anise seeds, and sub out 2 teaspoons of the sea salt for rock salt (sendha namak).
- Any leftover oil is perfect for flavoring rice, salad dressings, and roasting vegetables.