(makes about 1 quart jar; 15 minutes + a few weeks of preserving time)
Tart, spicy, and salty, with a hint of aromatic spices, lime pickle is a wonderful complement to your meal. I first encountered a simple version of preserved limes in Little Women, where the schoolgirls had been banned from eating them. I had to learn more about why pickled limes might be banned:
“…they were sold from glass jars on top of candy-store counters, and some families even bought them by the barrel. Because the import tariff for pickled limes was quite low – importers fought to keep them classed as neither fresh fruit nor pickle – children could buy them cheaply, often for a penny apiece. Kids chewed, sucked, and traded pickled limes at school (and not just at recess) for decades, making the limes the perennial bane of New England schoolteachers. Doctors tended to disapprove of the limes…in 1869 a Boston physician wrote that pickled limes were among the “unnatural and abominable” substances consumed by children with nutritional deficiencies.” Parents, however, seemed generally content for children to indulge themselves in the pickled-lime habit.” – Pickling, Linda Ziedrich
Since pickled limes are quite salty, be sure to pair them with curries that are less so, for a beautifully balanced meal.
1/4 c. kosher salt
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 t. black mustard seed
1 t. fennel seed
1 t. fenugreek seed
2 stalks curry leaves (about two dozen leaves)
1 t. cayenne (optional)
1 t. turmeric
1/4 c. lime juice (plus more as needed)
1. Quarter limes. Rub salt into limes, then transfer limes to sterilised glass jars. Seal and let sit for three days; once a day, open the jars and press the limes down, squeezing juice out. At the end of three days, the rinds should have yellowed, and the limes should be submerged in juice; if not fully submerged, add more lime juice to cover.
NOTE: At this point, you have preserved limes, and you can eat them as is. If you let them sit for a few more weeks, the flavors will mellow and blend harmoniously. Many cuisines use preserved limes; it’s common in that case to remove the flesh of the lime (which will be very salty), and only retain the rind / pith, which may be sliced and used in various dishes. Or, continue on with your entire limes to make lime pickle.
2. In a sauté pan, heat oil on high, add mustard seeds, and cook until they start to pop.
3. Turn down heat to medium and add remaining spices (if you’d prefer a smoother result, you may roughly grind spices before adding), preserved limes, and lime juice. Cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (If you’d prefer a brighter, more fresh-fruit flavor, you may omit cooking the limes here, and simply pour the tempered spice mix over the limes in a bowl, combining well.)
4. Turn seasoned limes into sterilized glass jars, pressing down to compress. Set aside for 2 weeks to develop flavors; once a day, invert the jars so the seasoned liquid may permeate all the limes. Serve as an accompaniment to rice and curries.
NOTE: Once opened, store in the fridge for up to six months, or follow proper canning procedures for long-term pantry storage. When storing, a layer of oil on top of the limes will aid in preservation.