Pocket Lemon Pickle
There’s a common belief (common in the sense that I believe it, anyway), that it’s best to preserve things in large quantities. The idea of preserving fruit and vegetables always evokes, to my mind, bubbling kettles of jam, or brimming crocks filled with heads of cabbages or bobbling cucumbers.
And it makes sense: if you’re going to make the effort to preserve a little of something, well, why not put in that little extra work and make enough to last you a whole year.
This is an idea that works wonderfully for all the fruit and vegetables you can find in abundance around you in season.
Every now and then, though, one is the beneficiary of a windfall of fruit that is both wonderful and minute. One small punnet of perfect currants, a bowl of perfect mulberries. Or, in the case of this pickle: two sublimely beautiful and aromatic lemons from a friend’s mother’s tree in Florida.
How I wish radiant, unsprayed, organic lemons were something I could pick off a tree here in New York, or buy at the farmers’ market, but alas they are not. So, rather than complain about the lack of a local citrus bounty, I make the most of this little gift to make two wee jars of lemon pickle—a pocket-sized bounty to make a pocket-sized pickle.
The lemons need a week or two to ferment in their salt cure, but other than the patience required for this, there’s very little work involved in this recipe, which yields a lovely, bright, spice-filled condiment that’s perfect with a bowl of yoghurt and rice, or with hot parathas.
POCKET LEMON PICKLE
Makes 2 small jars
2 large lemons, unsprayed, cut into 1-inch pieces, seeds removed
3 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
1 tsp hot chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
50 gms grated jaggery
1 tsp feugreek seed
¼ tsp asafetida powder
1 branch curry leaves
2 tsp black mustard seeds
¼ cup organic, untoasted sesame oil
Weigh the lemons and then combine them with approximately two percent of their weight in coarse sea salt, along with both kinds of chilli powder, and the turmeric, in a medium bowl.
Combine the mixture well and then fill it into two clean 6-oz mason jars.
Close the jars and leave them on a windowsill in the sun to cure. Every other day, open the jars and press down on the fruit with a clean wooden spoon to encourage more liquid to come out of the lemons and to keep the wedges submerged in the brine (and to prevent the formation of mold).
When the lemon has become tender enough to easily pierce with the side of a wooden spoon (how long this takes will depend on multiple factors, including temperature, so just keep an eye on them), proceed with the rest of the recipe.
In a medium non-reactive pan, heat a small quantity of sesame oil till it begins to shimmer. Add the fenugreek seeds and asafetida to it and fry till aromatic. Scrape the mixture into a small mortar and pestle along with the oil and grind till you have a smooth paste.
Mix the cured lemons with the fenugreek and asafetida mixture and the jaggery.
In the same medium-sized pan, heat the quarter cup of sesame oil till hot.
Add the mustard seeds and cook till they turn grey and begin to pop.
Add the curry leaves and step back (they will sputter as they hit the hot oil). Stir well to combine with the oil, then add the lemon mixture to the pan.
Mix well and continue to cook on low heat for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is just beginning to bubble and looks glossy and well-combined.
Spoon the mixture back into the jar, cover tightly, and let sit at room temperature for 1 week before putting away in the fridge.