it’s february and i’m up to my old tricks again. i have no idea if you peeps are as gaga over indian preserved pickles as i am, but i’m thinking like my absolute fave vegetable kohlrabi, if not today, it will eventually have it’s day.
meanwhile, i can’t help it if i’m ahead of the curve. my mouth puckers at the mere thought of an indian fermented citrus pickle. all at once they are hot, sour, salty and sometimes sweet. unlike your run-o’-the-mill north african preserved lemons, they should not be rinsed before eaten. and, unlike them, they can make a meal out of nothing more than yogurt and plain rice. but i like them most of all as an intense condiment served on the side of a curry or even a quick vegetable stir-fry. if you have an indian pickle in you fridge i guarantee your kitchen will be void of boring one-dish meals, they are so flavor packed they could most certainly perk up an old leather shoe.
not that i’m suggesting your cooking tastes like old leather shoes mind you.
i’ve settled on a basic recipe with which i play each winter. it contains equal amounts of salt and sugar (although the sugar goes unnoticed in the finished bite) turmeric for color and earthiness, and a quarter cup of ground chiles. i grind up my homegrown and dried cayennes, which if truth be told i grow specifically for indian pickles. they of course render my pickles mouth-explodingly hot, but you could be a bit more subtle with yours and use a milder chile powder or lighten up the load. i do suggest you go somewhat hot though to get the full effect.
i’m particularly excited about this batch because i’m using meyer lemons from the lovely lemon ladies, and a typical bengali spice combo which is sometimes referred to as indian 5-spice. and with good reason, it’s ubiquitous in eastern india where it’s enjoyed in all manner of fish, vegetable and legume dishes. back home, i’ve found it hits all the right notes of exotic and familiar when introducing someone to indian flavors. it’s simply one part each of whole fennel, cumin, fenugreek, black mustard, and nigella seeds.
if i have peaked your interest over the last couple of winters, dear readers, with my endless roaring about indian fermented pickles but you have not quite taken the leap, i say, give this one a try! i think you’ll love it.
meyer lemon pickle with indian 5-spices
- 13 organic meyer lemons
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
- scant 1/2 cup sea salt (not coarse ground)
- scant 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup cayenne powder (or ground chile of choice)
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
- 1/4 teaspoon asafoetida powder* (optional)
- wipe the lemons with a dry cloth. slice 12 of them in quarters lengthwise. slice each quarter through it’s width into three pieces. taking out the seeds as you go, be sure to catch any wayward juice. gather cut lemons and juice in a large bowl.
- in a dry skillet toast the 5 whole spices. keep the heat on medium and give the pan a shake now and again. as soon as you smell a delicious aroma and see the fenugreek turn barely a shade darker pour them into a plate to cool. if you are using the asafoetida powder toss it in 30 seconds before you take the spices off the heat.
- once the spices are cool grind them in a spice grinder or with a mortar & pestle. add them to the lemons along with the salt, sugar, chile and turmeric. stir until all is well combined.
- scoop into an immaculately dry one half gallon (or two quarts) glass jar with a tight fitting lid. i stress that the inside of said jar must be dry because even a little bit of water could lead to spoiled lemons. add the juice of the final lemon to the jar.
- place the jar in a sunny windowsill if you, like me, are in the throes of winter. if you have a few days where the sun is shy, do put the jar in a warm place, like the top of a fridge or on the floor about a foot away from a radiator. if you happen to be in a warm clime, you can put your jar outside during the day, making sure to bring it in at night. give the jar a shake once a day, or better yet keep it right side up one day, and upside down the next. i’ve learned from experience that this is best done with a plastic screw-capped jar as a wire bail or weck jar – even with a tightly fitted rubber ring – will leak.
- every few days open the cap, carefully, as there will be a lot of fermentation going on inside and it will sizzle a bit into the air upon opening. as the days go on, the aroma becomes even more mouth watering. because meyers are quite thin-skinned, your pickle should be done in about 3 weeks. you can start to taste around that time and see if the texture is to your liking. don’t let it get too soft! you want some firmness to remain between the teeth.
place your finished pickle in the fridge to drastically slow down fermentation and it will easily last a year or more. a little goes a very long way. i like to decant mine into smaller jars to store in the fridge. oh, and do remember to dip a clean and very dry spoon in each time you serve your precious pickle.
*i just love world spice merchants! it is really worth ordering from them, their spices are consistently superior. (i’m not gettin’ nothin’ for saying this, it’s just the truth!)