With chunky pieces of lime and plenty of chilli, this tangy pickle, nimbu ka achaar, is an ideal accompaniment to almost everything in this cookbook.
It is quite easy to prepare but you need time and patience as it takes at least a month to make. This pickle cooks in the sun and is partly fermented. The longer you leave it the more the flavours will develop. The best one of these I ever made was left in the sun for over a year.
An Indian meal is not complete without accompaniments like this. Yes, you can buy very good and diverse pickles from an Indian grocer, or even your supermarket, but if making them is so simple, and they taste so much better, why would you? As I have said elsewhere in this book, nothing shows you care quite as much as making these accompaniments.
This is a typical Bengali lime pickle and is made in batches at the start of summer to take advantage of the sun and the availability of limes. Given that this pickle keeps almost indefinitely, and improves with age, you may consider making several of these, and leaving them on your roof until needed.
A few hints. Choose small limes with thin skins, so that you avoid big chunks of peel. The pickle also tastes better with these small limes. Choose a jar that just contains the limes, as you do not want too much air in the jar whilst it cooks in the sun. As described, this recipe makes enough to fill a 500ml pickling jar.
You must practice absolute food hygiene when preparing this dish. Do not allow any water into the preparation, as this will encourage mould to form. You must sterilise the containers to prohibit any bacterial growth. The spices and acidity in this dish act as natural food preservatives, but don’t rely on them alone.
Despite its long shelf life, once you open the jar, I recommend you keep it in a refrigerator. It should keep for several months if stored this way.
On etiquette, do not serve this from the preparation jar. Always place the pickle in a small dish to serve.
- Thoroughly wash and dry the limes. Cut each lime in half, through the middle, then cut each half into quarters, so you end up with eight half wedges from each lime. Remove the seeds.
- Pack the limes into a large sterilized jar, sprinkling over the salt at the same time. Seal, and leave to stand in a warm place for two weeks, or until the limes have turned brown and softened.
to make the pickle
- Heat a small frypan over medium heat. Add the fenugreek seeds and toss gently until the seeds start to colour and become aromatic. Remove from the heat, allow to cool then grind to a fine powder.
- Transfer the lime mixture to a heatproof bowl.
- Heat the oil gently in a small frypan and add the chilli powder, crumbled chillies, fenugreek, turmeric, mustard seeds, and asafoetida, mixing well. Cook, stirring constantly for five minutes or until the oil is very hot. You must be very careful not to burn the spices, but the oil must get very hot for this dish to work.
- Pour the oil and spices over the lime mix and stir well. Cover and allow to cool. When cooled, pack into a sterilised jar, making sure the oil completely covers the limes. Seal and store in a warm place for at least two weeks, although longer is preferred. A sunny spot in the garden, or even on the roof would be good. There is no need to do anything to the pickle before opening it to consume.
- Make sure that you dry the limes after washing. You do not want to introduce moisture into this dish for such pickling to work safely.
- This recipe takes one month from start to finish, minimum.
- Always remove pickle from the jar to serve. Remove enough to serve and place into a serving dish.
- Once opened, refrigerate the pickle. It will last several months if stored this way. Allow pickle to come to room temperature before consuming.
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