“Oh, these? No big deal,” Said I, upon Double S’s arrival home Tuesday night. We had leftover lemons and limes from Socal, and I wasn’t going to have time replicate some of my favorite recipes from the can jam until maybe the weekend, so I decided to make two ferments with my remaining citrus beauties. Ferments, I know. I’ve read this, and this, and even went to his workshop two summers ago. Also, no cooking required!
I first became aware of preserved lemons last year, when Double S and I stumbled into what turned out to be an amazing Greek spot in Capitol Hill. There they were, sitting on the counter, looking gorgeous and mysterious. When I got home I did some Googling, and discovered how I might cook with them. Then I promptly forgot about them till recently, when I began to see them everywhere. In restaurants with open kitchens, Whole Foods, and other fancy markets. Tonight, I finally decided to try my hand at making them. You can get each one of these done in under an hour, then you just let them sit on your counter and accept all the compliments that will inevitably come your way.
What You’ll Need:
1.5 liter jar with lid.
Large wooden spoon or pestle to stuff the lemons into the jar.
Lemons: I used about 9-10 medium to large-sized lemons to fill the jar. Then I used the juice of one more, to top off the jar.
Kosher salt: Lots of it!
Bay leaves: I used two fresh leaves I got in Cali.
Coriander seeds: As much as you want. I used a small handful because I like them.
Fennel seeds: Again, as much as you want. I used probably about 5-10.
Dried chilies: I used two.
Cinnamon stick: I’m leery of salty-sweet combos, so I used one.
Cloves: For above reason, I used 2-3.
Peppercorns: I used about 5-10.
1. Boil a pot of water to sterilize your jar. Toss the rubber lid in during the last 5 minutes.
2. Scrub your lemons. Use organic lemons if you can, but still scrub them well. At this point, you could toss them in another pot of boiling water for 2-3 minutes. This extracts extra juice. I forgot about this, and only boiled half the lemons. I definitely noticed that the quickly boiled ones did extract more needed juice, so try to do this step if you can. I guess I doubly lied about the no cooking required thing. My bad!
3. In a large bowl, combine kosher salt and all the spices you decided to use, and stir them around. They won’t combine much, but you want a good mixture, because you’re going to be stuffing it into the lemons.
4. Cut your lemons. Start by cutting the bottom and tops off. Cut down the middle from the top, almost to the bottom, but don’t cut all the way through. Then flip it over and do the same, but make it a cross-cut. You want your lemon to almost quartered, but still attached. I had a hard time with this because my mind is not spatially inclined. Here’s what they should look like, but it doesn’t matter how you exactly cut them, they just need to be cut so the spice mixture can be stuffed inside the lemon.
5. Put as much of your salt/spice mix as you can into the lemon–between the almost quartered pieces. Salt is what will preserve the lemons.
5. Now you’re ready to pack your jar. First, sprinkle a layer of kosher salt into the bottom of the jar. Then begin dropping the lemons into the jar. Don’t forget to put your whole spices in (cinnamon stick, bay leaves and chilies) as you go–they’re hard to stuff in at the end, and if you strategically place them, your jar looks a lot nicer. And it’s better to look good then to feel good darling, and my jar looks marvelous!
6. I found that my pestle worked well at stiffing the lemons into the jar. Pack them in, you want a lot of juice to start emerging, and you want to be able to fit as many lemons as possible. You can also sprinkle more salt and spices between the lemons as you go. You should be noticing the lemon juice beginning to cover the lemons as you fill the jar. When you have packed as many lemons in as you can (you can get more in than you think you can), squeeze the juice of one more lemon on the top of the jar so that the lemon on top is covered by about a half an inch or so of juice. This is needed head space to help you avoid mold. Don’t use commercial lemon juice or water. Sprinkle some more kosher salt in at the top. Cap your jar tightly.
7. Now the easy part, the jar just needs to sit somewhere warm-ish for about four to six weeks. Just give the jar a shake every day to keep things mixed. These do not need to be refrigerated, even after you open them, but you can. As you remove lemons, add more juice and salt so that the remainders stay covered.
Uses: You can use these bad boys to season rice, couscous, stews and soups. Remember, these will work like salt so be careful when adding extra salt to whatever dish you use these to flavor. Also, use a clean utensil when you take out the lemons for use–no double dipping! If you keep it clean, there’s no need to refrigerate these after you open them.
Postscript: I checked these two days later, and there were lemons coming above the liquid level. You definitely want to keep the top lemon submerged, so I used a pestle to push the lemon below the liquid line. I will keep checking this daily.
Indian Lime Pickle:
The second item I just happened to whip up that night was an Indian lime pickle made without oil. I haven’t found a commercial lemon pickle that I like. I have, on the other hand, found commercial mango pickle that I like. They’re salty and spicy and addictive and I eat them on rice, with dal, chicken, and pretty much whenever I get the chance. So I decided to try a lime pickle, because I wanted to use up the limes I had leftover and because I think the thinner peels will make perhaps a better pickle than would thick California lemon peel. I also finished this in under an hour, and there is very limited cooking involved.
Indian Lime Pickle, adapted from here.
What you’ll need:
Coffee/spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Limes: I used about 12 of ’em.
Kosher salt. 1/2 cup.
Indian chili powder. 1/4 cup.
Sugar. 1/2 cup.
Turmeric Powder. 3 tsp.
Methi Seeds. 1 tsp.
Mustard seeds. 1 tsp.
Asafoetida/Hing powder. 1/4 tsp.
1. Scrub the limes. Dry them off. Again, use organic if possible. Cut off the top and bottom stalks.
2. Cut the limes as small as you like them. I say the smaller the better, because you don’t really need a huge piece of pickle. When there are smaller pieces, you can spread out the pickle more in a more satisfying way. Quarter each lime, then cut each quarter in half, then cut each remaining piece into fourths.
3. Dump the lime pieces into a large bowl. Add the salt, chili powder, sugar, and turmeric powder.
4. Put the methi seeds, mustard seeds, and asafoetida into a small skillet and heat them till the mustard seeds pop or the methi seeds turn a nice tan color. 3-4 minutes or so on medium high heat.
5. Put the spices listed in step 4 into a coffee grinder and grind them till they become a fine powder. You could probably also use a mortar and pestle, but it would take longer. I find that if I occasionally use the coffee grinder for spices then clean it out thoroughly immediately after, I don’t have any problems with my coffee tasting like spices. Add the powdered spices to the bowl.
6. Mix the lime pieces with all the spices. Use a clean spoon.
7. Dump everything into the jar. Shake it up!
8. Add the juice of a lemon or lime.
9. Let the jar sit. Shake it every day. I read that the jar needs to be in direct sunlight, but I also read that this can work in the winter if you put the jar near a heating vent. Is it the sun or is it the heat? Will what is essentially a sun pickle ferment in January in Seattle? I guess I’ll find out! Let jar sit for 2 months or so, till peels are soft.
While you wait for these ferments to be done, think about some of your favorite lemon related things. Maybe this song? Or Liz Lemon. Remember night cheese?
Postscript: I’ve been putting this jar near a heating vent at night and under our skylight during the day, on the off-chance that there will be sun in Seattle in January. There’s some bubbles and it smells incredible. I’ll keep you posted.