Lemon Pickle is a traditional Indian condiment made with lemons (or limes), ground spices, salt and an optional ingredient – oil. Many Indian homes make pickles during summer that usually last for an year. Pickles are eaten as a side in an Indian meal and is believed to aid digestion when eaten in small quantities. A typical Indian meal always consists of a pickle and lemon pickle is the most common one loved by many.
Lemon Pickle also known as preserved lemons is a traditional condiment where lemons are preserved in a brine. A basic brine for this purpose consists of salt and lemons or lemon juice. Sometimes various spices are also added to balance the acidic and sour taste of lemons.
After preserving the lemons in the brine for a period of time, they ferment and soften after which they are edible. In the Indian lingo this is known as achar – Lemon pickle.
In India, each region has a different recipe for making pickles. I share my Mom’s recipe here along with lots of tips to keep the lemon pickle good for an year.
However since lemons are available through out the year, I prefer to make them every few months.
Traditionally made pickles are mostly no-cook, except for heating the spices & oil for tempering. So this recipe does not require any cooking except for tempering.
This lemon pickle can be made with just 3 ingredients – lemons, salt and chilli powder. However for a extended shelf-life, it is good to temper it with oil like the way I have done it here.
Process of Making Lemon Pickle
- Firstly lemons are rinsed well and wiped dry. Then chopped and deseeded. They are sun dried for few hours or can be kept in the oven.
- These are brined with salt, lemon juice and turmeric for 1 to 3 days. This reduces the bitter taste of the skin.
- Then chilli powder and roasted fenugreek powder are stirred in and then the pickle is bottled.
- For an extended shelf life it needs to be tempered with oil and mustard seeds (optional). If you prefer to keep this pickle for an year, I suggest following additional steps mentioned in the recipe notes below.
How To Make Lemon Pickle (Stepwise Photos)
1. Rinse 8 large lemons (400 grams) well under running water and pat dry with a clean cloth. Air dry them until completely moist free, preferably overnight.
2. Ensure your chopping board, knife, bowls, spoons and everything else you use to make the pickle are moisture free and dry. You can sun dry or air dry them well for a few hours. I usually pop them in the oven for a while at 60 to 70 C (140 to 160 F)
3. Cut 4 lemons to halves and remove the seeds with a small knife and chop them to quarters or smaller cubes as desired. To a small bowl, extract the juice from the rest of the lemons (4) and remove the seeds.
Then spread them on a large tray spacing apart and sun dry for at least 5 hours. If you live in a place where there is no sunlight, simply keep the tray in your oven and turn on the oven at 40 C (104 F), at the lowest possible settings for 1 hour. Shake the tray after 30 mins. The lemon pieces won’t dry out completely. Keep the oven door ajar (slightly open) through out to avoid moisture building up inside.
Spread red chili powder, salt and turmeric in a tray and keep under the sun for 1 hour or in the oven (without salt) for 20 mins, with the door kept ajar. Later place this on a wired rack so the ingredients don’t sweat.
Also keep the lemon juice in the sun or in the oven. If keeping in the sun, spread a thin muslin cloth over the bowl of lemon juice. These steps will ensure your pickle won’t spoil.
Make The Lemon Pickle
4. Before making the pickle, ensure all of the ingredients including salt are at room temperature and not warm. Add the chopped lemon pieces to the jar or bowl. Then pour the lemon juice to the same jar or bowl.
5. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon salt and turmeric.
6. Mix everything well. Lastly sprinkle another half tsp salt over the pieces. This step helps to prevent spoilage.
7. Cover and rest for 24 hours in a dry place. Avoid keeping in high humid places like kitchen counter etc. I left mine in the living.
8. After 24 hours, lemons will begin to change the color slightly but not tender yet. If it is summer where you live, then you can wait for another 2 days. I decided to go ahead after 24 hours as it was raining.
9. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons red chilli powder and ½ to 1 teaspoon roasted methi seeds powder /fenugreek powder.
10. Mix all of them again. Cover and set aside .
11. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a pan. I used mustard oil here so heated it until smoky. However you can use any oil you prefer. When the oil turns hot, add ¼ teaspoon mustard seeds, 2 to 3 crushed garlic cloves and 2 red chilies. Once the garlic turns golden, turn off the heat. Add ⅛ teaspoon hing now. Cool this completely.
12. Pour 2 tbsps oil of the cooled along with garlic and mustard. Mix well. At this stage taste and add more salt and chilli powder.
13. Transfer this to the jar. Pour the rest of the oil on top. Press down the lemon pickle with a spoon so the pieces all go under the oil.
14. Ensure there is a layer of floating oil over the lemon pickle. This helps in shelf life. Cover with an airtight lid and refrigerate. Let the pickle mature for at least 10 to 20 days before you serve. When the pickle is ready, the lemon pieces will soften & the bitter taste reduces.
I always refrigerate this pickle after I make it as the weather is humid here. Serve lemon pickle in any Indian meal as a side. Always ensure you use dry spoons to serve the pickle.
Here are some tips that may be helpful
Tips to make lemon pickle
1. Ensure all the ingredients, knife, chopping board, bowls, spoons and all other things used to make the pickle are dry and moisture free. Do not use anything directly from the refrigerator. Bring them to room temperature and use. This step is essential for a good shelf-life.
2. Lemons with thin skin are used to make the pickle as they taste less bitter and mature quickly after pickling. Lemon juice is used to tone down the bitter taste in the skin.
3. Chilli powder is the key ingredient here. It is nothing but pure 100% ground red chilies. I suggest using a milder version for lesser heat.
4. Oil has been traditionally used in most Indian pickles as it prevents the growth of mold or fungus. Oil-free lemon pickle can be made following the same recipe I have shared below. Just skip the oil. But there are chances of the pickle turning moldy depending on the weather conditions.
5. Fenugreek seeds or methi seeds are used in most traditional pickles as they help in fermenting the pickle well. These seeds also adds a unique flavor without leaving a bitter taste. This is optional and you may skip.
This recipe needs only a small amount of fenugreek powder which is hard to make in any blender. So I usually roast about 2 to 3 tbsps of these seeds and then powder them. This keeps good in the fridge for an year. You can add a bit of this to any pickles.
Tempering the pickle with whole mustard seeds, garlic and red chilies is optional buts adds some flavor. You may skip all of these and just heat the oil. Cool it completely and then add it to the pickle.
Color of the lemon pickle will change from red to brownish as the pickle ages or matures.
Right time to make
The best time for pickling is during hot summers. We avoid during the monsoon as there are higher chances for the growth of fungus.
Lemons vs Lime
The same recipe can be used to make lime pickle as well. We usually make this with lemons and avoid lime. The skin of the lemon is less bitter than the lime. So most people prefer using lemons. Please note that lime pickle takes longer to mature.
Ingredients (US cup = 240ml )
- 200 grams lemons (4 large)
- ½ cup lemon juice (from 4 large lemons)
- 1¼ tablespoons salt (adjust to taste, preferably non-iodized salt)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons red chilli powder (adjust to taste)
- ½ to 1 teaspoon roasted methi seeds powder (optional) (fenugreek powder)
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 4 tablespoons oil (add more if needed)
- ¼ teaspoon mustard seeds (optional)
- 2 dried red chilies (optional)
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves crushed (optional)
- ⅛ teaspoon asafoetida (hing) (optional)
- Optional – If using fenugreek seeds, roast 1 tsp seeds on a low heat until they turn fragrant and deep golden in color. Cool this and powder finely. Measure ½ to 1 tsp powder for this pickle and set aside.
- Rinse the lemons well until running water and wipe dry with a clean cloth. Air dry them preferably overnight to ensure they are moisture free.
- Ensure the chopping board, knife, bowls, spoons and pickle jar are clean and moist free. Do not use moist surfaces or cutlery while you make the pickle to avoid spoilage.
- Chop 200 grams lemons to desired sizes and deseed them gently with a small fork or a knife.
- Extract the lemon juice from the rest of the lemons (another 200 grams) and discard the seeds.
- Spread the chopped lemon pieces on a clean tray and sun dry them for at least 5 hours. If you do not have sunlight, then put the tray in the oven and turn on the oven at 40 C (104 F), at the lowest possible settings in your oven for 1 hour, shake the tray after 30 mins. Keep the oven door ajar (little open) through out to avoid moisture building up inside.
- At the same time, spread red chilli powder, salt and turmeric in a tray. Keep it in the sun for 1 hour or in the oven at 40 C or 104F (without salt) for 20 mins. Keep the oven door ajar (little open) through out to avoid moisture building up inside. Remove the tray and place on a wired rack so the ingredients don't sweat.
- Also keep the lemon juice in the sun or in the oven. If keeping in the sun, spread a thin muslin cloth over the bowl of lemon juice.
How To Make Lemon Pickle
- Before you make the pickle, cool down all of the ingredients including salt. This step is very important. They will become warm or slightly hot after keeping in the sun/ oven.
- Add the lemon pieces to a clean glass or ceramic bowl or jar.
- Pour the lemon juice, add 1 tbsp salt and turmeric.
- Cover and rest it for 1 to 2 days at room temperature in a dry clean place. Avoid keeping this in a humid atmosphere like in kitchen. Keep it in the living.
- Stir the lemon pieces together with chilli powder and ½ to 1 tsp methi seeds powder. Cover and set aside.
- Heat oil in a pan until hot enough. Then add mustard, red chilies and crushed garlic.
- Turn off when the garlic is fried to crisp and golden. Add hing and cool down the oil completely.
- Pour half of the oil to the lemon pickle and give a good stir. Taste it and add more salt and chilli powder if needed.
- Transfer this to a glass bottle. Pour the remaining oil over the pickle.
- Press down the pickle so the oil floats on top. Ensure there is a layer of oil over the lemon pickle as this helps in a good shelf life.
- Cover with a lid and refrigerate the lemon pickle for better shelf life.
- It takes 10 to 20 days for the lemon pieces to be ready. When the pickle is ready, the lemon pieces will soften.
- Always use dry spoons to serve the pickle. Wipe clean the sides of the jar with a clean tissue after every use. Ensure most of the lemon pickle is under the oil at all times. This helps in preserving the pickle for longer.
- Wash the pickling jar with mild hot water and soap. Rinse it well and dry it very well for a day or 2. Ensure there is no moisture. You can directly make the pickle in this jar.
- Usually lemons will thinner skin are used for pickle as they tend to be less bitter and mature quickly.
- I used 3 tbsps chilli powder and the pickle turned out to be on the hotter side. If you don’t prefer it to be hot, reduce it to 2 tbsps.
- Ensure the pickle is under the oil at all times. A layer of oil should be floating over the pickle. This preserves it for longer.
- Do not keep the refrigerated pickle at room temperature for longer than a few hours. There are chances of mold growing over it.
- If you want to preserve the lemon pickle for an year, then rest the pieces in salt and lemon juice for 2 days. On the 3rd day, drain the pieces in a colander and dry them on a tray for another 2 days. Also place a thin cloth over the lemon juice bowl. Keep this as well in the hot sun for a day. After 2 days of sun drying, add them back to the juice along with spice powders. Follow the rest of the recipe.
Alternative quantities provided in the recipe card are for 1x only, original recipe.
For best results follow my detailed step-by-step photo instructions and tips above the recipe card.
NUTRITION INFO (estimation only)
© Swasthi’s Recipes
Lemon Pickle Recipe First Published in March 2020. Updated and republished in July 2022.
I’m Swasthi Shreekanth, the recipe developer, food photographer & food writer behind Swasthi’s Recipes. My aim is to help you cook great Indian food with my time-tested recipes. After 2 decades of experience in practical Indian cooking I started this blog to help people cook better & more often at home. Whether you are a novice or an experienced cook I am sure Swasthi’s Recipes will assist you to enhance your cooking skills.
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