Lemon pickle is a fantastic and flavorful Middle Eastern condiment that's SO delicious! Pickling is easier than you think, especially if you use this quick pickle recipe.
Homemade condiments taste so much better than store-bought, and they can be fun to make, too. Not only that, but I think it feels good to know exactly what is (and isn’t) in the condiments I use.
If you’ve never done it before, pickling fruits and vegetables may seem intimidating, but I assure you, the process is really simple. What steers many people away from it is the time involved.
The good news is, this quick lemon pickle doesn't take long at all. If you’re short on time, quick pickling is the way to go!
Types of Pickling: Fermentation and Quick Pickle
Pickling is a method of preserving food to lengthen its shelf life. There are two methods; fermentation and quick pickling.
Examples of quick pickle recipes include chutney, salsa, and ceviche. With a quick pickle recipe, vinegar (or another acid such as lemon juice), sugar and salt are the ingredients that preserve the food.
Using this method, the entire pickling process takes up to 24 hours, but the pickled food does not keep indefinitely.
On the other hand, fermenting foods involves bacterial growth, which in some cases, extends the shelf life almost indefinitely. The downside is that the fermentation process can take several days, and sometimes even longer. This is because bacteria needs quite a while to grow.
Ingredients to Make a Quick Lemon Pickle
One particularly nice thing about pickled lemons is that the acid you need exists naturally, right in the fruit. Because of this, you don’t have to use any additional acid like vinegar.
- Lemons- Nothing fancy needed here; just a few simple fresh lemons, including a couple to squeeze for fresh juice.
- Red chili peppers- I like a spicy lemon pickle, so I use a mortar and pestle to massage a red chili pepper with lemon juice. If you aren’t a fan of spicy food, it’s perfectly okay to leave it out. Or, you could use a less spicy pepper, such as jalapeno.
If you'd rather not use a chili pepper at all, you can substitute it with a teaspoon of shatta sauce.
- Spices- For seasoning, you’ll need salt, sugar, and three other basic spices; paprika, turmeric, and cumin.
- Clean, slice, and juice the lemons.
After slicing the lemons, add them to a glass bowl, and place the lemon juice into a separate bowl.
Be sure to use a container made from a non-reactive material, like glass. Otherwise, the acid in the lemon juice could eat right through the container.
- Combine lemon juice and chili pepper.
Use a mortar and pestle to combine and create a paste with the lemon juice and chili pepper. If you'd rather not use a chili pepper, you can substitute it with a teaspoon of shatta sauce.
- Massage the chili paste into the sliced lemons.
The easiest way to do this is with your hands (I think it's more fun this way, too!)
- Add the seasoned lemon slices and any accumulated juices to a sterilized glass jar.
It will take up to 8 hours for the lemon pickle to be ready for use. Until then, store it in a sterilized jar with a tight fitting lid.
Yes, when the process includes sugar and salt to preserve the lemons rather than bacteria/yeast to ferment them, pickled and preserved lemons are the same thing.
In fact, lemons and other citrus fruits are very difficult to ferment. This is because the citric acid in them lowers the pH level of the ferment so much, it’s nearly impossible for bacteria to grow.
The flavor of pickled/preserved lemons is much different than the flavor of fresh lemons. Rather than having a strong, tart flavor, lemon pickle has a milder flavor that tastes wonderful in stew and dishes like this recipe for lamb tagine.
You can also opt to make this into a chunky spread, which I prefer. If so, drain and discard juice. Then pulse/ puree in food processor to desired consistency!
Other Uses for this Quick Lemon Pickle Recipe
The next time you make stew (like this Moroccan chicken stew), add a bit of pickled lemon to the dish. It'll give the dish a wonderful, bright flavor!
Quick Lemon Pickle (Pickled Lemons)
- ½ red chile chopped (See Note 1)
- 3 tbsp lemon juice fresh
- 3 lemons very thinly sliced (See Note 2)
- 1 tsp garlic minced
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ¼ tsp ground cumin
- Use a mortar and pestle to mash the red chile with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice; mixture should have a paste consistency. Alternatively, substitute the chile and teaspoon of lemon juice for 1 tablespoon red shatta sauce (my preference).
- Slice the lemons as thinly as possible. First, cut each lemon in half lengthwise, then cut each half widthwise into very thin slices. Add these to a bowl.
- Add the chile paste or shatta to the sliced lemons along with the remaining lemon juice, garlic, sugar and spices. Either use clean hands or a rubber spatula to combine mixture, being sure to coat all the lemon slices well. Cover and refrigerate overnight or 24 hours.
- You can then transfer sliced lemon pieces along with accumulated juices to a sterilized sealed jar, this will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks. You can also opt to make this into a chunky spread, which I prefer. If so, drain and discard juice. Then puree in food processor to desired consistency, this will keep refrigerated for 2 weeks as well.
- If you choose not to mash the red chile with lemon juice, substitute 1 tablespoon of red shatta sauce.
- First cut each lemon lengthwise, then each half cut widthwise as thinly as you can.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.