You will find recipes for fermenting vegetables (and sometimes fruit) in every culture. it is a way to preserve seasonal vegetables, increase their nutritional potency, and add a ton of flavor as well. In its simplest form, fermenting vegetables just involves submerging vegetables in salty liquid and leaving them alone to let the wild bacteria do its work.
Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Moroccan preserved lemons, Chinese pickles, Indian pickles, Japanese umeboshi are all examples of fermented vegetables and fruits. In his book, The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz explains that although you can call fermented vegetables pickled, all pickles are not fermented. The “Dill pickles” found in grocery stores are vegetables preserved in vinegar and are not fermented. It is important to know this difference as eating fermented foods has a lot of health benefits.
Katz in his book observes correctly that Indian pickling is not an unified tradition – each state, each region, each sub-culture, and even each family has its prized pickling method. Most will add heated mustard or sesame oil, but some may not. Some will leave it out in the sun, but some will just leave it in a cool place inside. Some will add lemon juice, some will not. But throughout India you will find fermented lemon pickle served with rice and yogurt. It is a pantry staple.
This fermented lemon pickle is definitely out of my usual comfort zone, but it was so intriguing. I love the mix of spices, and I just happened to have them all on hand having recently visited the Oaktown Spice Shop. I thought, why not? Go for it! I’m posting the recipe, even though it has to cure for another month, because there are many of us right now with a glut of Meyer lemons, you may want to try it.
I found this recipe on the blog hungry tigress. There are two parts to the blog, tigress in a pickle and tigress in a jam. Check out this blog for wonderful recipes on preserving, pickling and fermenting. I made the recipe exactly how it was written on her blog, you can read the original here.
Meyer Lemon Pickle with Indian 5-Spices
makes 1/2 gallon or two quart jars
- 13 organic Meyer lemons, washed and wiped dry
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
- scant 1/2 cup fine sea salt
- scant 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup of cayenne powder or ground chili of choice
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
- optional: 1/4 teaspoon of asafoetida powder
- Wash and wipe the lemons with a dry cloth. Slice 12 of them in quarters lengthwise, slice each quarter through its width into three pieces. Remove the seeds as you go. Put the lemons into a large bowl and try to catch as much juice as possible, adding it to the bowl as you go.
- In a heavy dry skillet toast the 5 whole spices on medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally. As soon as you smell a wonderful aroma and the fenugreek seeds have turned a shade darker, they are ready. If you are using the asafoetida powder, add it the last few seconds before turning everything out onto a plate to cool.
- Once cool, grind them in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Add them to the lemons along with the salt, sugar, cayenne, and turmeric. Stir until all is combined.
- Scoop all into a immaculately dry half gallon (or into two quart jars) glass jar with a tight fitting lid. The recipe warns that the jar and all utensils that touch the pickle must be dry because even a little water could lead to spoilage of the lemons.
- Place the jar in a sunny windowsill. Give the jar a shake every day or so, or keep in right side up one day and upside down the next.
- Every few days open the cap, carefully, as there will be fermentation going on inside and it will sizzle a bit when you open the lid. The pickle should be done in about 3 weeks, taste it to see if the flavor and texture is to your liking. You want some firmness to remain.
- Store in the refrigerator and it will easily last for a year or more. Be sure to use a clean dry spoon each time.
I love this pickle with plain brown rice or another grain, with a dollop of yogurt on the side to cut the heat. But, my husband prefers it whirled in a blender with some mayonnaise. It it a wonderful sauce for roasted vegetables, fish, or chicken. It also makes a wonderful salad dressing, whirled to a smooth consistency in a food processor (I use my mini one) and thinned with a little olive oil.