Too many lemons? Make Nepalese lemon pickle

October 16, 2008 | By | Comments (7)

Here in sunny California we have beautifully floral, thin-skinned Meyer lemons hanging on the trees year-round. But I know you folks in other areas can get Meyers in grocery stores, so I wanted to tell you about my experiment to make one of my favorite condiments, Indian-style lemon pickle.

It’s sour, salty, spicy, and incredibly tasty with basmati rice, lentils, chicken, and just about any dishes from that part of the world.

Actually, I first tried the recipe in Nepal. I had been trekking in the Himalayas for 10 days (just me, a cook, and two porters), and one afternoon we stopped in a village and the cook and a villager began some animated bargaining. Pretty soon, the feathered object of their negotiations was sequestered under a big overturned basket. (Sorry, Nugget and friends. Some chickens do not live the cushy life.)

Anyway, to cut to the chase, so to speak, before I knew it, the cook was serving up daal-bhaat on a little mat next to my tent. Daal-bhaat is kind-of the national dish of Nepal—rice, lentils, some simmered meat, and at least one type of chutney, or pickle as they call them.

Yes, I have made my way to the point here. The Meyer lemon pickle! So that’s when I first tried this mixture that I love so much. I got to thinking about how to make it, and figured it couldn’t be too different from making preserved lemons.

In fact, the technique is just the same (cut up Meyer lemons, add a bunch of salt, and let them sit for a couple of weeks), except I’ve added mustard seeds, a big jalapeño, a bunch of cayenne, and some oil. Here’s what it looks like.


So far, it tastes just the way I was hoping—salty, hot, sour, and earthy from the mustard seeds. I’ll check it again in a couple of weeks and let you know how it’s coming along. Anyone else make pickles/chutneys like these?

Nepalese lemon pickle

MAKES  3 ½ cups TIME 30 minutes, plus at least 2 weeks to chill

1 ½ tbsp. brown mustard seeds
1 lb. Meyer lemons (about 8 small), stem ends trimmed
1 ½ cups kosher salt
1 jalapeño chile, minced
2 tsp. cayenne
2 tbsp. canola oil

1. Toast mustard seeds in a small frying pan over medium heat, shaking occasionally, just until they begin to pop, 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Rinse lemons, quarter lengthwise, and discard obvious seeds. Put in a large bowl and stir in salt. Use a potato masher or wooden spoon to press lemons and extract some juice. Stir in mustard seeds, jalapeño, cayenne, and oil.

3. Transfer lemon mixture to a wide-mouthed jar (to hold at least 3 ½ cups). Press lemons to immerse in juice. Seal jar and chill at least 2 weeks and up to 6 months. In the first few days, press fruit down occasionally to submerge in liquid.

4. Use the pickle in small amounts to season your favorite foods from the sub-continent.


  1. David

    This’ll work with all kinds of lemons and limes. Mexican limes — sometimes on sale at three or four pounds a buck at markets with large Hispanic clientele — create stronger flavors than lemons.
    Serrano chiles are probably closer to Nepali varieties.

    Some recipes salt-cure the citrus before adding other spices. Sometimes the salt-curing step is done in glass jars, in sunlight as much as possible. I’m not sure whether this affects the flavor or just speeds things up.

    Re sterilization, the process may actually involve fermentation similar to making sauerkraut (lacto-something). Sterilization might only kill off the necessary bacteria. The saline environment seems to be hostile to all but the bacteria you need.

    May 25, 2010 at 4:32 am
  2. Georgia

    Marcia, I did not use a sterile jar, just a clean one.

    September 15, 2009 at 11:47 pm
  3. Marcia Walden

    Can these be canned using a boiling water bath?

    April 5, 2009 at 4:09 am
  4. Georgia

    Additional substitution: peanut oil instead of canola oil. I made the substitutions based on what I had in my pantry.

    November 7, 2008 at 1:18 am
  5. Georgia

    I prepared the pickles a few minutes ago using “regular” lemons. I halved the recipe and made the following substitutions:

    kosher salt: sea salt
    cayenne: chili powder
    jalapeno: chipotle

    November 7, 2008 at 1:16 am
  6. Elaine Johnson

    Hi, Georgia,

    I bet it will work fine with regular Eureka lemons. The pickle will be even more tart, which would be good with the salt and heat.

    October 16, 2008 at 10:52 pm
  7. Georgia

    Can you use another type of lemon?

    The result looks delicious!

    October 16, 2008 at 8:35 pm

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