Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find. Even in an extremely urbanised city like Delhi, with hardly any real wilderness left, you will be pleasantly surprised how nature escapes the boundaries we set for her. Plants like bathua (lamb’s quarters) and kulfa (purslane) are common enough. I even found a large patch of sotchal (common mallow) growing wild in Purana Qila one time.
Last year K, my house help, put before me a bag of citrus growing on an unoccupied plot in her colony that no one wanted and was only attracting monkeys and their destructive antics. It looked a lot like our santara, the regular Indian orange; the peel and sections were on point. But there was nothing orange-y about their juice. The juice was sour and bitter, in equal measure. Loathe to see beautiful fruit laid waste she brought me a few confident that I would be able to make something of them.
These “bitter limes” were very fragrant and juicy. I shared a picture on Instagram and got some prompt responses. I agreed with Ramya and Anju that these were likely kadulimb (Marathi) or heralekai (Kannada). On Ramya’s suggestion gojju was promptly made with the juice of half a lime. This small success encouraged me to go full throttle and I combined it with a galgal lime (hill lemon) I had been saving, to make a marmalade that was beautifully bitter. The rest I simply juiced into a simple syrup which although bitter to start with mellowed over time and was good in cocktails.
This year I was looking forward to the season and last month K brought me a fresh cut bunch. First, I made gojju. Then I made chitranna. Marmalade seemed like too much work this time around. I decided to try pickling them instead. Since I am a little partial to southern Indian style pickles that is the way I leaned.
With one lime I first tried a cooked pickle. It’s quick and if you’re looking for instant gratification then this is the method for you. Steam cooking or boiling softens the limes in a matter of minutes where the usual lime pickle takes weeks to be ready. The cooked pieces are then added to a tempering of mustard, hing, and the usual spices and cooked further. The pickle turned out lip-smacking good. I felt confident to risk a bigger batch of the slow-cooked pickle.
For the second pickle I picked four limes, about 600 grams. Yes, the limes are about 150gms each. It took little time or effort to cut them up, transfer them to a glass jar, and salt them. By morning they were immersed in their juices. With regular limes you may need to add the juice of a few additional limes to have enough liquid to cover the pieces but bitter limes are extremely juicy. The finished pickle was so good that I processed the remaining limes into more pickle. I now have three batches of bitter lime pickles two-ways!
If you can’t lay your hands on these gorgeous bitter limes, use any other lime or lemon and have yourself a jolly good pickle. Go, see what is growing in your neighbourhood!
Bitter Lime Pickle
500 gms Bitter Limes (or any other citrus)
120 gms salt (Iodine free)
1 tablespoon red chilli powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon methi seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (optional) (lime pickles are koshur for Maharashtrian Hindu fasting, but mustard is not! That is why mustard seeds are rarely added to a lime pickle.)
1/4 cup gingelly oil (untoasted sesame oil)
1/2 teaspoon strong hing
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds (optional)
a handful of whole dried red chillies, broken into two
curry leaves, stripped
Rinse and pat dry the limes. Dice into desired size. It’s up to you to remove the pips or not. This time I took the time to pick them out. Transfer to a clean dry glass or stoneware jar. Add the salt and mix well. Leave to cure for a week. No harm done if you cannot get to it in a week; I got to mine after two weeks. In 12 hours the lime peels will have changed colour and will all be submerged. In case you are using a different kind of citrus, one that may not be as juicy, add enough juice from additional limes to cover the pieces. Shake every other day to mix the pieces in the brine.
In a week’s time the lime pieces would have softened up a bit. Now is the time to add the spices.
Roast the methi seeds on a low flame till they are dark but not burnt. Cool and grind. Do the same with mustard seeds (if using).
Heat gingelly oil in a heavy bottomed pan. When its hot add the mustard seeds which should splutter immediately. Add hing and the whole red chillies, followed by the curry leaves. Stir on medium heat till the curry leaves are crisp and have no moisture left. Turn the heat off and allow the oil to cool. Mix in all the spice powders and add the spiced oil to the jar with the cured lime pieces. Mix well and keep on a sunny windowsill for another couple of weeks or till the peel is soft enough to eat.
Enjoy with an Indian meal. Lime pickles are believed to be beneficial for treating digestive tract problems and are served with rice and yogurt to treat stomach upsets. The longer you keep the lime pickle the darker it will get. And the longer it ages the greater are the health benefits associated with it. This pickle will stay forever (unless eaten)!