Thursday, February 9, 2012

I'm Indebted

I've waited three weeks for today to happen. Today was the day my batch of Indian "Lime" Pickle was finally ready to break open and serve up. Halleluiah. I told Kevin I was going to post something like this:

Quick! Drop everything. Go buy lemons. Pick lemons. Acquire for yourself lemons by any means possible because you aren't going to want to wait a day longer than three weeks. And, this is the best thing I've eaten in months. I swear.

But that seemed a little over-the-top. Isn't everything I post on here supposed to be pretty bloomin' good? Yes. But folks, I have been sideswiped.

Indian lime pickle is nothing new to many an Indian food lover. I love Indian, but the few times I've had the pickle I couldn't muster one nice thing to say. It is brackish with a bit of sour and heat and then this funky lingering sweetness that tastes like it shouldn't be there. Its hardly what I expect and never what I want.

But then Christmas came and I got Liana Krissoff's gorgeous Canning For A New Generation. She not only makes things sound practical and easy, she also convinces you that even fermented bran might be next on your list of pickles to try. I noted a few dozen must-makes for the future in the Spring, Summer, and Fall sections (like Green Apple Pectin Stock, Chinese Plum Sauce, and Sushi Ginger) and then went through the winter section a with my mind on the present. You see, I have this huge lemon tree and all these lemons, and I might plan to make limoncello or lemon curd or lemon marmalade or all of the above, but I would still have most of a tree of lemons. Time to get creative.

I blame my making this pickle on Ms. Krissoff, because why on earth would I make it when I have never liked Indian lime pickle before? Why, because she makes food sound delicious and exciting and new. (She got me to make kimchi too, complete with mashed up anchovies. I do fish. I do fish sauce. But I have had no desire to take the fish to its final stinky glory myself. Now I do!) I am obviously indebted to her persuasive abilities.

This morning I opened the jar of the lime pickle, slipped in a long clean spoon, lifted out a translucent, sizable square of lemon, and ate it straight (what was I thinking, really). All I could think was oh my, that is good. Oh! Oh my. That is so good. Weird. That is so, so good!

That impression only further solidified when I made her accompanying recipe, Lentils with Date and Lime Pickle Chutney. So good. The lentils are simple enough, nothing new really, but she adds fennel which was a small revelation. But the lime pickle. Lord Almighty. Sweet, sour, salty, pungent, but it was also subtle and verging on floral-fragrant. Is this how you describe all lime pickles? How did I miss it? How could I have lived this long without it?

Maybe its the lemons. Krissoff uses lemons, not limes, and she explains herself well. Its all about varieties--the difference between an Indian lime and the lime varieties available in the States may be similar to the difference between a navel orange and a blood orange. Maybe. That's my parallel, not hers. I really have no idea. All I know is she told me to use lemons and I did. And I like how they turn out.

So over-the-top or not, I do still suggest that you get yourself seven lemons as soon as possible and make this recipe as soon as you can. Kevin tells me I should add "if you like that sort of thing." He certainly liked the chutney. But he wasn't swooning. He isn't really the swooning type. But sorry beloved, I don't agree. If you like this sort of thing, make it. If you don't like this sort of thing, make it anyway. If it doesn't knock you off your culinary rocker then your friends and family will be blessed and you will only be a few lemons out. Give it away. The recipient will be indebted to you. And that's always nice.

Indian Hot "Lime" Pickle (adapted from Lianna Krissoff's Canning For A New Generation)

I altered a couple things in Krissoff's recipe by accident, not big changes, but probably big enough. I left the spices whole instead of grinding them, and I used brown mustard seeds instead of black. Also, I improvised on the seventh lemon. As far as I can tell, the recipe doesn't tell you what to do with it. I used it for juice because things seemed a little dry in there. Seemed logical.

And a note from the author: "Be sure to dry the lemons, cutting board, knives and all other utensils very well--no water can get into the pickle mixture, or it may spoil, as bacteria can thrive in the water."

7 lemons, scrubbed and dried well
1/2 cup pure kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1/2 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons ground cayenne or other hot chile
1 teaspoon crushed fenugreek
1 teaspoon brown (or black) mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon asafetida (optional)

Reserve the 1 lemon to juice later and cut the rest in half from point-tip to point tip. Cut each half into 6 wedges, then cut them crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces. Put them in a clean, dry quart jar. Make sure the lid you use is absolutely perfect, no scratches, or the lemon will work and rust will form.

Add the salt and turmeric, put the lid on the jar, and shake well. Uncover and add the sugar and cayenne, then cover and shake again.

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the fenugreek, mustard seeds, and asafetida, if using (I didn't, but she says it lends a truly authentic taste), until fragrant and a shade darker, about 2 minutes. Add the mixture to the lemons in the jar. Use a clean, dry chopstick or plastic or wood utensil to stir well (metal does not do good things to live cultures, which is what you're trying to make). Put the lid on the jar and set it in a sunny spot for 3 to 4 weeks, shaking it occasionally to redistribute the lemons and juice, until the lemons are tender.

What do you do now? Go buy Ms. Krissoff's book firstly. Then make Lentils with Date and Lime Pickle Chutney for dinner. Oh, you want the chutney recipe too? Ok.

Lime Pickle Chutney adapted from Krissoff's

2 tablespoons Indian Hot "Lime" Pickle
1/2 cup pitted dates (I used medjool)

Combine and pulse in a food processor to make a paste; alternatively, grind them with a mortar and pestle. Serve with spiced lentils or other dal and maybe some saag. Enjoy!


  1. Wow, does this sound great! Michael came home with a giant carton of Meyer lemons last week, "for hot lemon water." Maybe I will leave him one for his hot lemon water. Maybe I won't.

  2. WOW, are these delicious! Ingrid and I are enjoying a first taste of our lemon pickles today alongside our curried yellow peas. Mmmm.
    Tingly flavour explosions all over my mouth.

  3. yeah! so glad they worked for you Alissa, that Lianna sure knows what she's doing!