Lemons in India are different – they’re lemony (well, duh!) but rounder with much thinner skins than the ones we see most commonly in the UK.
Indians in the UK sometimes choose to use limes in place of Indian lemons when cooking, although my mum recommends against this as lime skins are much tougher than lemon skins. She wonders whether the ubiquitous lime pickle served in Indian restaurants here in the UK is actually made from lemons bought in Indian grocery shops that import them from India or whether it is actually made from limes.
In any case, I found some small, spherical lemons in a local market that seemed to be somewhat closer to the thinner-skinned Indian variety and that’s what I used to make my pickle. If you use regular lemons, just give your pickle longer to mature in order for the skin and pith to soften up properly.
Mamta’s Kitchen Hot Sweet Sour Tangy Lemon Pickle
250 grams lemons
2 -3 teaspoons salt
200 grams jaggary or dark brown or muscovado sugar
1 teaspoon brown cardamom seeds, coarsely ground
1-2 teaspoons chilli powder
1-2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely ground or whole, as preferred
1 teaspoon nigella sativa seeds (kalonji)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons malt vinegar
Note: The amounts for sugar, salt, chilli and vinegar are a guideline so it’s best to have extra available should you wish to adjust to taste. Likewise, the amounts for the flavouring spices are also approximate and can be adjusted as you prefer.
Note: I scaled the recipe up for 1.5 kilos of lemons.
- Scrub the lemons clean in hot water. (Waxed lemons will probably need more scrubbing).
- Cut into small pieces.
- Steam in a microwave on full for 5 minutes.
- Spread out on a plate or tray and leave in the sun to dry for a day. (As the weather didn’t co-operate, I popped mine into the oven, set as low as it would go, for about an hour).
- If using block jaggary, crush and grate to break down.
- Peel the cardamom pods and crush or grind the seeds. Grind the fennel and black pepper.
- Place salt, jaggary or sugar, ground cardamom seeds, chilli powder, coriander powder, fennel seeds, nigella sativa seeds and ground black pepper into a large bowl.
- Add enough vinegar to form a loose paste and combine all ingredients well.
- Add lemons and mix gently to distribute the paste evenly over the lemons.
- Fill sterilized jars. Leave on a window sill or in hot sun.
- Transfer to sterilised, airtight jars.
- Wait at least 2 weeks for the pickle to mature, longer if using thicker-skinned lemons. But note that this pickle really benefits from aging. My mum cherishes a jar of 10+ year old lemon pickle which she reckons just gets better and better with time.