The sour and spicy lemon pickle is a beloved condiment in South Indian cuisine. With its mind-blowing explosion of flavors, this pickle can transform even the simplest rice and lentil meals into an unforgettable feast. I still remember the first time I bit into the sunset-colored, chili-flecked slices of pickled lemon at my friend’s house in Chennai. It was a flavor revelation! The lip-puckering tartness of the lemons harmonizes beautifully with the spices like fenugreek, mustard, and asafetida. If you wish to add more zip to your meals, then learning how to make lemon pickle at home is a must.
In this beginner-friendly guide, I will walk you through the entire process of making lemon pickle step-by-step, from selecting the right ingredients to tips on perfecting the pickle’s taste. You’ll also learn crucial canning techniques to store the pickle for months. So grab some juicy lemons and let’s start pickling!
Choosing the Best Ingredients for Flawless Lemon Pickle
The starting point to whip up any delicious pickle is gathering the freshest spices and produce. Here are some tips on what to look for:
Pick Plump, Shiny Lemons
Choose medium-sized lemons that feel heavy for their size. Avoid puffed up lemons or ones with spots and blemishes. The lemons should be thin-skinned for the spices to easily penetrate the rind. I recommend using Meyer lemons. Their smooth, aromatic pulp makes them perfect pickle fodder.
Look for Whole, Vibrant Spices
Whole spices like fenugreek, mustard seeds, chili, and asafetida infuse the lemons with their strong essence. Shop for spices that look vivid in color instead of dull or powdery. This indicates freshness.
Don’t Forget the Salt and Oil
For any pickle, salt and oil are vital not just for flavor but also for preventing microbial growth during storage. Use good quality salt without unhealthy additives. I prefer coconut oil or peanut oil which complement the flavors.
The Essential Equipment for Safe Home Pickling
While the ingredient list for lemon pickle looks short, making it requires some specific equipment. Here is what you’ll need:
Sterilized Glass Jars
Pouring the hot lemon pickle mix into sterile glass jars is crucial to avoid contamination. Jars also exclude air exposure leading to longer shelf life.
A Muslin Cloth
Use a clean muslin cloth to cover the pickle jars instead of lids while they cool. This allows the evaporating vinegar steam to escape while keeping dust out.
Wooden Spoon & Ladle
For getting the seasoning coat to adhere evenly to the lemons, a long wooden spoon is perfect. A wooden ladle helps transfer the pickle into jars without reacting with the metal.
These test trips measure if your pickle has reached the safety zone of pH below 4.6. This acidity prevents toxin production.
Follow these simple pickling guidelines and equipment recommendations for a safely canned, long-lasting lemon pickle.
Step-By-Step Method to Make South Indian Style Lemon Pickle
Now that you have got your ingredients and tools ready, let’s dive right into the easy, foolproof recipe to make this tempting lemon pickle at home:
Step 1 – Wash and Pat Dry the Lemons
Rinse the lemons under cool water and gently scrub off any dirt or grime using a vegetable brush. Ensure there are no bruises or soft spots left. Use a kitchen towel to thoroughly pat dry the lemons. This allows for better absorption of spices later.
Step 2 – Stud the Lemons with Chili & Fenugreek Seeds
Now, take a sharp, thin skewer and pierce each lemon multiple times. Stud the lemons by poking in whole fenugreek seeds and dried red chilies into these holes. This infuses a lovely heat and crunch.
Step 3 – Massage the Salt & Turmeric
Transfer the studded lemons into a clean glass or ceramic bowl. Toss the lemons with sea salt and turmeric powder until evenly coated. Set aside for an hour. This salt and turmeric massage enhances the flavors while lemons release their juices.
Step 4 – Heat the Seasoning Oil
In a small skillet, gently heat coconut or peanut oil. Add in mustard seeds and let them crackle. Next, add hacked curry leaves and dried red chilies. Stir for a minute and then switch off the heat.
Step 5 – Pour the Seasoning over Lemons
Retrieve the lemons after an hour of resting. Pour the lukewarm seasoning oil from step 4 all over them. Now add in ground spices like fenugreek, asafetida, and turmeric. Mix everything well together using a wooden spoon.
Step 6 – Transfer Lemons into Sterilized Jars
Pack the well-coated lemons tightly into prepared sterilized glass jars. Ensure there are absolutely no air gaps. Top off with the leftover juices collected at the bottom of the bowl. Add vinegar for that signature tang.
Based on your taste preferences, you can add sweeteners or more chili powder at this stage if desired. Close the jars with muslin cloth and set aside to ferment and age.
That’s it! With these 6 easy steps you can quickly whip up south Indian style lemon pickles from scratch right at home.
Tips to Get the Texture and Flavor Right Each Time
While the ingredient ratios for this zingy lemon pickle stay mostly constant, tweaking a few little details can take your pickle from great to outstanding:
Rest it Longer for Maximum tang
Allow the lemon pickle jars to rest in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight for a minimum of two weeks for flavors to build. For an intense sour-spicy kick, you can even rest it for a month or longer.
Check the Pickle’s Texture
There’s a fine line between the perfect jam-like consistency and a water logged pickle. If your pickle looks too thin, take it out of the jar and cook it down to evaporate excess moisture. This gives a nice thick texture that hugs the lemons.
Fry the Seasoning Longer
Heating the mustard seeds until they finish popping and the curry leaves turn crispy intensifies their nutty, toasted flavors. This transfers deliciously into the pickle. Just don’t burn the spices!
Add a Pinch of Citric Acid
To balance and enhance the tang without keeping the pickle out for months, add just a tiny pinch of citric acid powder. This gives it a bright, lemon-lime like zing.
Know When It’s Truly “Done”
Check your pickle’s readiness using pH test strips to see if it measures below 4.6. This reassures it’s safe for long term storage.
Step-By-Step Guide to Can the Pickle for Years of Use
Once rested to perfection, it’s time to transfer your lip-puckering lemon pickle into sanitized jars for long term preservation:
Step 1: Sterilize the Empty Jars & Lids
Remove any remnants or stains in the containers with hot, soapy water first. Disinfect them by submerging in boiling water for 10 minutes before use.
Step 2: Make the Pickle Boil
Pour the lemon pickle into a non-reactive pot and bring it a rolling boil. Maintain this for 5 odd minutes to kill off any lingering microbes. Skim off the surface scum.
Step 3: Carefully Fill Jars & Seal
Temporarily store the empty warm jars in the oven set to the lowest temp. This keeps them hot for filling. Carefully pour the boiling hot pickle into the jars up to 1⁄2 inch from the rim. Seal at once with the sterilized, heated lids.
Step 4: Process the Filled Jars
Next, process the sealed jars by placing them in a large, deep pot filled with warm water. Make sure jars are fully submerged. Bring this canning pot to a vigorous boil and continue for 15 minutes to vacuum seal jars.
Step 5: Cool & Store
Lift jars from the pot using jar tongs and set them out to cool at room temperature away from drafts. After 24 hours, check that all jar lids have a strong vacuum seal. Label jars with contents and date before storing. Enjoy your preserved lemon pickle for up to a year!
Fermenting the lemons to the perfect sour and spicy pitch before canning lets you enjoy their intense taste for months. Just remember- sterilization is key for long term safety.
Common Problems and Troubleshooting Tips
On your first few attempts, your lemon pickle may turn out too mild or excessively salty. Here are some handy fixes:
Pickle Tastes Too Mild
If pickle lacks that addictive sour-hot flavor punch even after weeks of waiting, try adding more chili powder or vinegar to the mix. You can also add a pinch of citric acid. Pour the adjusted pickle mix into freshly sterilized jars and age for 10 more days before re-testing.
Pickle has Poor Texture
If your pickle turns out unpleasantly mushy or too watery in the jars, it needs more cooking down. Dump it back into a nonreactive pan and simmer for 30-40 mins until excess moisture evaporates and it reaches a jam-like consistency. Add a little more vinegar if it’s too dense.
Pickle tastes Too Salty
Excess salt can make the pickle unpalatable. To fix this, thoroughly drain the salty lemon pickle in a colander followed by rinsing with water 2-3 times. Squeeze out moisture from lemons and return to a clean bowl. Add more oil, spices and just 1⁄2 to 1 tsp salt this time. Adjust any other seasonings to taste.
Besides these common hurdles, do keep watch for signs of spoilage like unpleasant odors, sliminess, or white mold spots. Dispose off entire batch if you notice contamination in your pickled lemons. Identify where things went wrong and try again.
Get Creative with Serving Ideas for Your Homemade Lemon Pickle
A tangy south Indian style lemon pickle is extremely versatile. Beyond the usual rice and lentil combos, it also enhances snacks, meats, and more. Here are some mouthwatering ways to serve it:
- Marinate chicken, fish or paneer cubes with the lemon pickle before grilling or baking. The acids tenderize protein beautifully.
- Swirl it into coconut or mango ice cream for an innovative flavor twist.
- Add to fried rice or plain white rice along with peas for quick weeknight supper.
- Toss boiled baby potatoes with this zesty pickle, mustard seeds, and curry leaves for flavor burst.
- Stuff into sandwiches or wraps along with your favorite veggies.
- It makes baked or instant pot lemon rice extraordinary. Just mix in 2-3 tbsp per cup of rice along with peanuts.
- Add it to the batter when making pakoras or bajjis to amp up the flavors.
- Mix into mayo with herbs make pungent sandwich spread or dip.
With its addictive sour-hot-sweet taste and salty crunch, I am sure this south Indian style lemon pickle will soon become your new obsession! Tailor the heat to your liking and preserve it safely for enjoying for next 12 months.
I hope you found this beginner’s guide helpful for churning out flavor-packed lemon pickles with confidence every single time. Let me know if you have any other favorite ways to serve this lip-smacking southern condiment.