As much as I love the recipes from my grandmother’s generation and want to pass them on to my daughters, I wish I had their level of patience and luxury of slow paced life on my hands too. And I know my daughters shall be in a bigger hurry, in another 10-15 years time, when they shall be cooking for their families. So in all my traditional recipes, keeping the flavour of the recipes intact, I try to compress the time and effort involved.
I’ve always loved pickles, and there is an astounding variety to choose from the South Asian pickles treasure trove. Each pickle is considered a signature of a particular region. Salt, spices and oil play a very important role in pickle making and different oils and spices render different characteristics to the pickles. This Punjabi style nimbu achar or lemon pickle is made traditionally in mustard oil. I remember how I loved to eat it in my childhood with kichri, a soft mishmash of rice and lentils. I’m still a big fan because it goes great with all lentils, and dry vegetable curries – true taste of summer preserved in a jar.
Now you can take the long route and make Nimbu Achar the traditional way by placing it in a sunny spot for several weeks or till the lemon skins are tender enough. Personally, I know I would conveniently forget to tend to the pickle for that long because I already have a full time job taking care of a husband, two kids, a cat and several plants. So I prefer my quick n easy method and cook the lemons till they are tender, then toss them with spices and tempered oil. Easy peasy and ready to eat in an unbelievably short time.
Now the use of mustard oil is big point of dispute between East and West. While mustard oil has been used as a heart healthy and flavourful addition to many foods in our South Asian cuisine, it’s banned as “Not fit for human consumption” in many parts of the world. The myth surrounding the mustard oil is gradually dispelling and some western chefs have started using the mustard oil in salad dressings but it might take time to become an easily available ingredient. So if you want to substitute it, you can use sesame oil or any neutral oil.
1/4 kg fresh, ripe lemons
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons red chilli flakes
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 cup mustard or sesame oil
This Is a What You Do:
Wash and pat dry lemons. Poke them all over with a wooden skewer or the sharp point of a knife.
Add sugar, vinegar, half of the salt and whole lemons with 1 cup water to a sauce pan and cook covered till the lemon skins are very tender. Set aside. Save the remaining liquid and juices in the pan.
Meanwhile coarsely grind cumin, coriander, fenugreek and fennel seeds.
When lemons are done and cool enough to handle cut them in halves or quarters and remove the seeds.
Heat oil in a small sauce pan, add mustard seeds, let them splutter. Let the oil come down to room temperature.
Fill lemons, the coarsely ground spices, red chilli flakes, turmeric, remaining salt and lemon water in a sterilised jar. Pour over them the tempered oil into the jar.
Put an airtight lid on. Mix everything by shaking the jar.
Wait two days before using the pickle.
Keep refrigerated and consume within a month.
To make it the traditional way – instead of cooking lemons, poke them and sprinkle with half the salt, leave overnight. Next day add the ground spices, sugar, vinegar, salt, chilli flakes and tempered oil the same way as in the above method. Increase the quantity of oil to 1+1/2 cup (enough to keep the lemons immersed). Keep in a sterilised jar near a sunny window to mature for almost two months.
Tips – adjust salt and red chillies according to your liking.
– don’t reduce salt drastically because it adds as a natural preservative.
– if you can find, Kagzi lemons will be best for this pickle because they have a paper thin skin and are seedless.
-pickles made in oil usually don’t need refrigeration but since I’ve reduced the quantity of oil in my quick version, it will need refrigeration.
-always use a clean, dry spoon when taking the pickles out of the jar.