Lemons grow year-round in Southern California, which is largely due to the fact that we don’t really have Winter here. Sure, it gets chilly, but anyone from the east coast would probably be comfortable in shorts on days when we Los Angelinos prance about in scarves.
Oh yes, we prance. We put on fashionable peacoats and say things like, “It’s so cold, I can see my breath!” I’ve done it. It’s silly. It’s nice to pretend that we have seasons.
But lemons are available in abundance in January and there’s no shortage of what you can do with them. Using a few lemons from my parents’ tree, I consulted this book by Chandra Padmanabhan to make one of my favorite condiments - hot lemon pickle.
This is not a condiment for the weak! It’s packed with strong flavors that will whip your taste buds into submission. It’s like Spicy, Sour and Salty took some steroids, worked out together, got all amped up and decided to hang out in a jar to wait for a fight. You can handle them, though. You’re ready. You’ve got some rice and it needs a little action. So let’s get to it.
Chandra’s recipe stated that this will make one small jar of pickle, which isn’t exactly the case. You’ll actually end up with a healthy 16 oz jar. I think it would be perfectly fine to half everything if you don’t plan on giving some away or having a month-long lemon pickle binge. (It’s okay if you’re planning on the latter. I don’t judge.)
You will need:
- 6 lemons
- 1 tsp fenugreek seed
- ½ tsp asafoetida powder
- ¾ cup sesame oil
- 1 tsp brown mustard seeds
- 4 tsp red chili powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 8 tbsp salt
- 6 green chilies, chopped
- 1 ½ inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
Boil the lemons in a pot of water for 10-15 minutes until the peel is soft enough to pierce with a knife. Remove lemons and allow to cool. Reserve the cooking water, as you’ll need this later in the recipe. Half the lemons and cut each half into quarters.
Dry roast the fenugreek and asafoetida in a pan for 2-3 minutes, then blitz in a food processor or coffee grinder until it’s a fine powder. Set aside.
In a large pan, heat the sesame oil over medium heat and add the mustard seeds. As if by magic, the aroma of sesame will hit your nose at the exact moment the mustard seeds start to sputter. Once this happens, add the green chilies, ginger, chili powder and turmeric. Fry, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes.
Now add the lemons, salt, asafoetida and fenugreek mixture and ½ cup of the reserved lemon water. Stir well to combine and simmer for another 4-5 minutes.
To keep the pickle for about a month, boil a jar, allow it to air dry and fill it with the hot pickle mixture. (I didn’t know this. I just found this out from my mom. Hah! Well, it’s my first journey into Pickledom, and now I know for next time.) But it’s okay if you don’t do this - the pickle will last in a washed, but unsterilized jar for about a week in the fridge.
So what do you do with all this pickle? A dollop of pickle and a dollop of yogurt go a long way with rice or parathas. It’s sunshine, multiplied by 100, in a jar. With fire.