I've been meaning to post this recipe for a while but Daddy, my father-in-law, kept telling me to be more patient. We harvested our last batch of Meyer lemons more than a month ago. I preserved them by making all sorts of pickles. The method is pretty much the same regardless of the cuisine type, but the spices differ.
Today I'm going to show you how to make my family's favorite, called nimbu ka achar. Halved lemons are pickled in a large amount of coarse sea salt, then flavored with baghar, which is a combination of oil, a lot of spices and a few curry leaves. We enjoy it best with simple, plain basmati rice.
Servings: 8 servings
14 Meyer lemons
¾ cup coarse sea salt (or kosher salt)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
4 green Thai bird chiles, stemmed and chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, slightly toasted
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, halved
¼ teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons red chili powder, to taste
½ cup canola oil (or any neutral oil)
6 fresh curry leaves, cut into thirds
6 dried red chiles, stemmed and halved crosswise
Squeeze 5 lemons. Remove and discard the seeds. Set aside.
Pickling the lemons:
Cut the rest of the lemons in half. Using a paring knife, remove and discard the seeds. Place them in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and sugar. Mix well and let sit for 15 minutes.
To the same bowl, add the black peppercorns, red chili powder and turmeric. Mix well.
Transfer the lemons to a quart-sized jar; make sure they're tightly packed. Complete the jar with lemon juice. The lemons have to be submerged in liquid. Seal the jar, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and place directly under the sun for 4-6 weeks. When a few lemons are slightly discolored, the lemons are ready. The bitterness will have mellowed, the lemon flavor intensified and the rind will have become very soft.
Transfer the lemons and juice into a large glass bowl.
This step is called baghar: Heat the canola oil in a small saucepan, add the garlic, the whole dried red chiles, the cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Cook in the hot oil; the garlic will darken. Add the curry leaves; the oil will start splattering. Remove from the heat and immediately transfer to the lemon mixture. Cover with a lid (I used a plate to preserve the nice fragrance).
Serve at room temperature with basmati rice.
You could use regular lemons instead. If you use store-bought non-organic lemons, make sure to wash and scrub the lemons thoroughly with hot water to remove the wax around the rind.
Baghar is a very common step toward the end of cooking in many Indian dishes. I use a small 0.3-quart saucepan that I keep exclusively for baghar.
You can store the remaining pickled lemons in the refrigerator for at least 6 months.