Five straight days of sauce posts did not cure me. I think we may need to gather weekly to talk sauce. The Condiment of The Week is....lemon pickle. I have a knack for selecting items that have singular and God-given recipes in the minds of many, and surely this is another of these, for which, as usual, I offer one dopey and personal version not meant to stand as the be-all, end-all and ideal in the eyes of entire nations.
I started with my trusted source Madhur Jaffrey, and then veered. The point of lemon pickle is not a mild and mellow experience; it is a powerful and pungent kick for anything involving (traditionally) dals or other bean dishes and rice, but which I like (shocking) to put on my grilled cheese, my eggs, and the end of the fork heading for my mouth. Like all fermented foods, it is considered a digestive. I think there are a berjillion different ways (of course I am estimating here) to make it.
The essential ingredient, other than the lemons, of course, is a very sharp knife. A dull knife will turn five minutes of pleasantly aromatic slicing and dicing into a misery. The weirder ingredients proposed here are mostly optional; if you make something with just lemons and salt and red pepper, you will still be pretty happy. I used cayenne, but I saw some shredded red pepper in the Asian market a few weeks ago that I have my eye on for next time. If you can get hold of the weirder ingredients, even better. Of time, you will need perhaps a half hour of the hands-on variety. Then you switch over to patience.
lemon pickle of no particular region of any known country,
yet with an unmistakable Indian flair
4 average size lemons
3 T sea salt
1/2 t sugar
2t cayenne pepper
1/4 t ground turmeric
2" fresh ginger root
2-4 fresh kaffir lime leaves (optional)
1/4 c canola oil
1 pinch ground asafoetida or hing powder (optional)
1 t urad dal or dried split yellow peas (also optional)
1 t brown mustard seed
Have ready a quart mason (or similar) jar, with a non-corrosive and tight-fitting lid. Fill the jar with boiling water, and dump the boiling water out over the lid.
Using your sharp, sharp knife, slice the lemons into thin (1/4 inch or so) slices, and use the knife tip to poke out any seeds as you go along. Stack the slices three or four deep, and cut into a fine dice.
Scrape the lemon bits and any juices on the board into a mixing bowl. Peel the ginger root (remember how you can peel it with a teaspoon? I love that trick. It never gets old). Slice it thinly lengthwise and then cross-wise into fine shreds (or you can just mince it). Add this to the bowl. Stack the lime leaves and slice them into thin ribbons, or use scissors to cut them into shreds, and into the bowl they go, along with the salt, sugar and cayenne. Stir to combine.
Heat the oil in a small, heavy skillet and drop in the asafoetida, then the mustard seeds and dried peas. As soon as they begin to sizzle, dump the entire contents into the mixing bowl. Stir again to fully mix, and scrape everything into the waiting jar.
Set the jar in a sunny window and leave it there for 7 days, shaking gently every day to move the contents around. After a week, you can move it to the fridge. It's ready to eat in about two weeks, and just gets better with more time, provided it lasts long enough to establish that.
I once made a dolled-up version of it by adding some thickly shredded carrots and green mango, and you can, too--or you can leave it as is.
Have a great weekend!