We’ve heard of nimbu ka achar or the lemon pickle, that tangy delight that brings back amazing childhood memories. Pickles have that quality, you know. They bring back memories. Every family generally has a tradition of making pickles, with their own heirloom recipes. You and your neighbor could probably using more or less the same recipe, and yet your pickles wouldn’t taste the same. Grandmothers, mothers, aunts all get together to cut mangoes or lemons or cauliflowers or any other fruit or vegetable you’re pickling and then process the spices to put together the pickle. It is generally quite a family ‘project’ done together in verandahs or terraces, and involves fun and frolic with everyone gathering for it.
Some pickles are ready immediately, some need some time to blend in, some need additional help from sunshine. And as children tend to move out of the house to study or work in other towns and cities, mothers and grandmothers send a dabba of achar with their children. And that dabba is a prized possession for every hostel dweller and everyone away from their mothers and grandmothers. Pickles are easily available in the market today, there are tons of brands who will give you whatever achar you want. There are gourmet pickle brands too, who make limited batches of pickles from organic ingredients. But none of them, will inspire the same feeling as the ma ke hath or dadi ke hath ka achar.
India is a country of diversity, with a culinary diversity unlike any other. And like Chef Kunal says, in India, the cuisine changes every 50 km. And that is totally true. As diverse our cuisines are, so diverse are our pickles. Every region has their own pickle varieties, and every family modifies it in their own ways, to suit their own preferences. Someone might add more or less of a particular ingredient, some might replace an ingredient or remove an ingredient entirely or add something more. If we explore the length and breadth of the country, we discover the rich heritage of pickle recipes the country has, which ties us together.
One such unique pickle from the Mewar region of Rajasthan (the region in and around present-day Udaipur) is the Besan ke nimbu ka achar. Make no mistake, this pickle has no lemons in it. Its called ‘besan ke nimbu’ ka achar, because the besan pakoras used in this pickle are shaped like a lemon (usual round shape). Yes, you read it right. This pickle has pakoras in it. It is a household recipe among some communities in the Mewar region. This is not a pickle of the royals, it is more a pickle of the common folk of the region. The sad fact is this is an endangered pickle, and making it is a dying art now. The number of families who now make this are dwindling. It takes quite some time to put everything together for this pickle, and once it hs been assembled, it takes seven days to become consume-able. In a time where pickles are often store-bought, making besan ke nimbu ka achar is a familial joy and a legacy taste that people are missing out on. The local people say this pickle is not found in any stores. And its kinda true, I’ve never seen this pickle in any stores in any markets I have visited so far, not even in Udaipur, which is the birth-place of this unique pickle.
Besan ke nimbu ka achar has been around since the times of the Rajput kings centuries ago. While the royal families have had their own legacy pickle recipes that have been passed down the generations, the common folk had their own recipes which often differed from those of the royals. The basic principle of pickling remains the same, but the ingredients and means available to the royals and the commoners were always different. A unique royal pickle recipe would be the chane ki dal ka achar, a very delicious pickle from the Royal family of Bhinders. Each family has its own unique recipe, and the chane ki dal ka achar is that for the Bhinders. Same way, besan ke nimbu ka achar is the unique recipe for the commoners.
Some people also call this achar as Besan ke Gatte ka achar because just how we make besan ke gatte ki subzi, we make besan ke gatte with slightly different ingredients for this pickle. The gatte are generally boiled or steamed, while the besan ke nimbu ka achar is actually made of fried pakoras. The pickle is quite experimental and is very unique.
Here’s a recipe for the Besan ke Nimbu ka achar. I am not giving the portions in particular as each family tends to make a pickle to their own individual preferences, so estimations would need to be based on that.
How to make Besan ke Nimbu ka Achar?
1. First, dry roast the chane ki dal (split bengal gram) and set aside.
2. Then peel the raw mangoes and grate it. Use the large raw mangoes that are meant for pickles and have smaller seeds like Adilabad, Rajapuri, etc. Grate half of the mangoes. Dice the other half into small pieces.
3. Don’t throw away the mango seeds. These seeds should be sun-dried thoroughly. They will be used in the making of this pickle.
4. Add besan to the grated mangoes.
5. Then season it with black mustard seeds, red chili powder, salt, dry achar masala, turmeric, asafoetida, fennel seeds, carom seeds.
6. Then add a little oil, preferably mustard oil to the besan-mango mixture and mix.
7. Now, make small balls of this mixture.
8. Heat some oil in a pan and fry these balls uniformly. These are the besan ke nimbu, all ready to be pickled.
9. Then set the fried besan ke nimbu aside to cool. The besan ke nimbu are really delicious, so if you can’t wait until the pickle is all set, take a dig right in. Pick up one fried pakora and bite in, you won’t regret it. Traditionally, the kids in the families who make this have a competition – who will eat the most besan ke nimbu. That is, until moms and grandmothers and aunts shoo the kids away, otherwise, there will be no pakoras left for pickling!
10. Now take the roasted chana dal we had set aside. Add black mustard seeds to it. Then add red chili powder, powdered yellow mustard seeds, salt, fennel seeds, powdered fenugreek seeds, and turmeric powder.
11. Then add a generous amount of hot mustard oil to this mixture. You can use the oil that was used for frying the besan ke nimbu.
12. Mix it thoroughly. It should have a thick flowing consistency – not too dry and not too thin. You can check if the spices are in proper proportions at this stage.
13. In another bowl, take some hot oil and mix asafoetida in it. Cover it and keep it aside for a few minutes.
14. Once the asafoetida oil has cooled a bit, pour it into over the besan ke nimbu. Pour the spice and oil mixture over the nimbus as well.
15. Now add, the diced mangoes and the dried mango seeds to it. Mix all the things together.
16. Now store it in a glass or ceramic container. Once all the pickle is put into the jar, pour in more oil to ensure the entire pickle is drenched in oil. Leave some empty space on the top because with time, the pickle will sit at the bottom of the jar and oil will come up, so there needs to be space for it. Set it aside to blend properly for 7 days. After that, the pickle is ready to consume.
Pickle is READY!
It is a common belief among the Mewari people that once the first rains have arrived, the pickles are safe and won’t spoil anymore. This pickle does not need any sunlight to process. That’s why, it should be stored in any cool, dry place, say a kitchen shelf or cabinet. Keep away from moisture. The pickle stays good for at least a year. With time, the besan ke nimbu pick up the flavors from the oil and spices, and soften up.
Mewaris even say that this pickle can be consumed by old people who don’t have any teeth anyore, because the nimbus are so soft, they require no chewing! This pickle is not available in any stores, or so the local people say.
It is a really unique and experimental pickle recipe, isn’t it? I am definitely making it in the summers. Will you?