A food-minded friend and neighbour introduced us to home-made lime pickle a couple of years ago. We had a great time shopping for the ingredients at a local Indian specialty food store that stocks such rare treats as fresh kaffir lime and bitter gourd. And the recipe we used was a real winner: it took first prize in the Housewives/Amateurs section of the All-India Citrus Fruit Exhibition in 1957.
The recipe is published in a wonderful old collection called Mrs. Balbir Singh’s Indian Cookery. The book has enjoyed 13 printings. For this year’s new batch, we dared to make a few changes – mostly because we wanted to include some of our preserved lemons, which change the pickle’s flavour quite a bit.
We also used less oil and lime juice, because we wanted a denser condiment with less liquid, and also added extra mustard seeds for more crunch. The resulting pickle has fantastic balance (although being a pickle it is rather salty), and the inclusion of lemons gives it a surprising lightness and a very clean flavour. If you really love the one-two punch of lime that lime pickle usually delivers, leave the lemons out.
Lemon lime pickle
(loosely based on a 1957 recipe from Balbir Singh’s Indian Cookery)
5 preserved limes
3 preserved lemons
1 1/2 C mustard oil
2 tsp. powdered chile
1/3 C brown mustard seeds
1 C ginger cut into small matchsticks
20 small dried red chiles
15 small fresh green chiles
the juice of 4 limes
6 tsp. fenugreek seeds
1/4 C coarse salt
Cut the citrus into 1/2-inch pieces, and juice the limes. Toast the fenugreek in a hot skillet, then coarsely grind. Slice or finely chop the green chiles, seeds and all. Peel the ginger and slice it into small matchsticks. Gather all your ingredients close to the stove.
Heat the oil in a deep pot, “until a blue haze appears”. (We saw a distinct blue ring appear around the oil’s edge after several minutes of heating, but were also afraid it was about to burst into flames. If you’re afraid to go this far, just get it really hot.)
Off the heat, add the powdered chile and mustard seeds. The oil will foam. When it subsides, and after the seeds have toasted for a few seconds, quickly add the remaining ingredients to prevent the seeds from scorching. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the citrus has softened somewhat. Store refrigerated, in airtight jars.