Lemon pickle is a traditional Indian condiment made with lemons, ground spices, salt and an optional ingredient – oil. Many Indian households make pickles during summer that usually last for an year. Pickles are eaten as a side in an Indian meal and is believed to aid digestion when eaten in small quantities. A typical Indian meal always consists of a pickle and lemon pickle is the most common one loved by many.
In India, each region has a different recipe for making pickles. In this post, I have shared my Mom’s recipe along with lots of tips to keep the lemon pickle good for an year.
Reading: items needed to make lime pickles
However since lemons are available through out the year, I prefer to make them every few months.
Traditionally made pickles are mostly no-cook, except for heating the spices & oil for tempering. So this recipe does not require any cooking except for tempering.
This lemon pickle can be made with just 3 ingredients – lemons, salt and chilli powder. However for a extended shelf-life, it is good to temper it with oil like the way I have done it here.
How is it made?
- Firstly lemons are rinsed well and wiped dry. Then chopped and deseeded. They are sun dried for few hours or can be kept in the oven.
- These are brined with salt, lemon juice and turmeric for 1 to 3 days. This reduces the bitter taste of the skin.
- Then chilli powder and fenugreek powder are stirred in and then the pickle is bottled.
- For an extended shelf life it needs to be tempered with oil and mustard seeds (optional). If you prefer to keep this pickle for an year, I suggest following additional steps mentioned in the recipe notes below.
1. Rinse 8 large lemons (400 grams) well under running water and pat dry with a clean cloth. Air dry them until completely moist free, preferably overnight.
2. Ensure your chopping board, knife, bowls, spoons and everything else you use to make the pickle are moisture free and dry. You can sun dry or air dry them well for a few hours. I usually pop them in the oven for a while at 60 to 70 C (140 to 160 F)
3. Cut 4 lemons to halves and remove the seeds with a small knife and chop them to quarters or smaller cubes as desired. To a small bowl, extract the juice from the rest of the lemons (4) and remove the seeds.
Then spread them on a large tray spacing apart and sun dry for at least 5 hours. If you live in a place where there is no sunlight, simply keep the tray in your oven and turn on the oven at 60 to 70 C (140 to 160 F), at the lowest possible settings for 1 hour. Shake the tray after 30 mins. The lemon pieces won’t dry out completely. Keep the oven door ajar (slightly open) through out to avoid moisture building up inside.
Also keep red chili powder, extracted lemon juice, salt and turmeric in the sun for 1 hour or in the oven (without salt) for 40 mins. Spread the dry ingredients in a tray. If keeping in the sun, spread a thin muslin cloth over the bowl of lemon juice. These steps will ensure your pickle won’t spoil.
How to make lemon pickle
4. Before making the pickle, ensure all of the ingredients including salt are at room temperature and not warm. Add the chopped lemon pieces to the jar or bowl. Then pour the lemon juice to the same jar or bowl.
5. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon salt and turmeric.
6. Mix everything well. Lastly sprinkle another half tsp salt over the pieces. This step helps to prevent spoilage.
7. Cover and rest for 24 hours to 3 days in a dry place. Avoid keeping in high humid places like kitchen counter etc. I left mine in the living.
8. After 24 hours, lemons will begin to change the color slightly but not tender yet. If it is summer where you live, then you can wait for another 2 days. I decided to go ahead after 24 hours as it was raining.
9. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons red chilli powder and ½ to 1 teaspoon roasted methi seeds powder /fenugreek powder.
10. Mix all of them again. Cover and set aside .
11. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a pan. I used mustard oil here so heated it until smoky. However you can use any oil you prefer. When the oil turns hot, add ¼ teaspoon mustard seeds, 2 to 3 crushed garlic cloves and 2 red chilies. Once the garlic turns golden, turn off the heat. Add ⅛ teaspoon hing now. Cool this completely.
12. Pour 2 tbsps oil of the cooled along with garlic and mustard. Mix well. At this stage taste and add more salt and chilli powder.
13. Transfer this to the jar. Pour the rest of the oil on top. Press down the lemon pickle with a spoon so the pieces all go under the oil.
14. Ensure there is a layer of floating oil over the lemon pickle. This helps in shelf life. Cover with an airtight lid and refrigerate. Let the pickle mature for at least 10 to 20 days before you serve. When the pickle is ready, the lemon pieces will soften.
I always refrigerate this pickle after I make it as the weather is humid here. Serve lemon pickle in any Indian meal as a side. Always ensure you use dry spoons to serve the pickle.
Here are some tips that may be helpful
Tips to make lemon pickle
1. Ensure all the ingredients, knife, chopping board, bowls, spoons and all other things used to make the pickle are dry and moisture free. Do not use anything directly from the refrigerator. Bring them to room temperature and use. This step is essential for a good shelf-life.
2. Lemons with thin skin are used to make the pickle as they taste less bitter and mature quickly after pickling. Lemon juice is used to tone down the bitter taste in the skin.
3. Chilli powder is the key ingredient here. It is nothing but pure 100% ground red chilies. I suggest using a milder version for lesser heat.
4. Oil has been traditionally used in most Indian pickles as it prevents the growth of mold or fungus. Oil-free lemon pickle can be made following the same recipe I have shared below. Just skip the oil. But there are chances of the pickle turning moldy depending on the weather conditions.
5. Fenugreek seeds or methi seeds are used in most traditional pickles as they help in fermenting the pickle well. These seeds also adds a unique flavor without leaving a bitter taste. This is optional and you may skip.
This recipe needs only a small amount of fenugreek powder which is hard to make in any blender. So I usually roast about 2 to 3 tbsps of these seeds and then powder them. This keeps good in the fridge for an year. You can add a bit of this to any pickles.
Tempering the pickle with whole mustard seeds, garlic and red chilies is optional buts adds some flavor. You may skip all of these and just heat the oil. Cool it completely and then add it to the pickle.
Color of the lemon pickle will change from red to brownish as the pickle ages or matures.
Right time to make
The best time for pickling is during hot summers. We avoid during the monsoon as there are higher chances for the growth of fungus.
Lemons vs Lime
The same recipe can be used to make lime pickle as well. We usually make this with lemons and avoid lime. The skin of the lemon is less bitter than the lime. So most people prefer using lemons. Please note that lime pickle takes longer to mature.
This can be eaten as a side in any Indian meal. We usually serve it with a simple dal, rice and ghee or with curd rice.
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