Its cold. Cold nose cold. Which is my way of determining just how cold it is. Time for preserving. In spite of the fact that I had a shed load of work to do, we are going out for dinner, my printer needs to make friends with my new router, plane and train tickets need to be booked – still I have this strong and irresistible January yearning for stirring a preserving pan full of gorgeous ingredients. So tomorrow it will be Seville orange, ruby red grapefruit and lemon marmalade (cut thick and boiled till its as dark as toffee). But today it is date and lime pickle. Perfect with a biryani, in peanut butter sandwiches, with cold meats and with fish curries.
Drop 8-10 limes in a saucepan of salted water, bring to the boil and them simmer gently for about 15 minutes until the lime skin is soft when you pierce it (carefully – squirting hot citric juice is pretty potent in the eye!) Then strain and dry the limes and cut in quarters. Then add a sprinkling of sea salt and two tablespoons of sugar and 1.5 teaspoons of asofoetida (ideally roast the seed in a dry pan then grind it yourself), stir around a bit, cover and leave in a cool place for 3 days. So if you start this on Tuesday or Wednesday night you can finish it off next week end.
On Saturday or Sunday next week, take a big pan and gently heat 2 tbsp sesame oil and add 2 teaspoons of mustard seed and one teaspoon of fenugreek seed and gently cook until they are golden. Then remove the cooked seed from pan, and pan from heat. Then add some more oil and 200g chopped dates (de-seeded) and cook down until they are a thick paste. Remove from the pan. Clean the pan then add about 25ml groundnut or vegetable oil on a low heat add three chopped deseeded green chillis, a 2.5cm chunk of chopped fresh ginger and five chopped cloves of garlic, one to two teaspoons of chilli powder (depending on its strength) and one teaspoon of ground turmeric. Cook until it is a rich red and be careful it doesn’t stick to the pan – if it looks as if it is going to, add just a little water and stir vigorously. Then add 1.5tablespoons of sugar (I use muscovado). At this stage, add 150ml white wine vinegar (please don’t used malted chip vinegar) and stir. Cook this sauce vigorously for five minutes then add the mustard seed and fenugreek you cooked and set aside earlier. Take off the heat and add the chopped limes and the dates and incorporate with the dark marsala liquid. Stir well, cook to boiling point once again and check seasoning, particularly salt and sugar.
This pickle should be sharp and should make your saliva run! There is natural sweetness in the dates so you shouldn’t need more sugar but add some if you want to, depending on your taste.
Pour into sterilised jars and seal carefully. You can eat it straight away and it will keep (if airtight) for 2 years if you keep it in a cool dark place. But it’s best within 12 months.