The season of Lent, six weeks of fasting, prayer and charity straddles winter and spring. Thus, these weeks are filled with nature’s own transitions from darkness to light, from cold to warmth and from lifelessness to new life. Christians observe Lent to remember the forty days and nights that Jesus spent fasting and praying in the desert before the start of His public ministry. At the end of this meditative fast, Satan challenged Jesus to prove His divinity by transforming stones to bread. Jesus responds that human sustenance is not from food alone but by the words of God.
Eating lightly and mindfully is a prominent theme of Lent. With each morsel of food, one has to be mindful of the grace of God that makes life possible. Here is a lemon pickle recipe offered in celebration of lent.
Lemons—6 ripe ones, cut into small pieces. The lemons should be bright yellow, so bright that they look like trapped sunshine. Sun shine that the blessings of the Lord of skies, generously bestowed on the Earth, and magically transformed to food for life.
Salt—1.5 to 2 table spoons. Taste of the sea transformed into crystalline seasoning by heat of the Sun and work of human hands. Mix the lemon pieces with the salt. If the lemon to salt proportion is right, the salted lemon pieces will taste like iridescent sunsets over the ocean, sharp enough to catch your breath but not pucker up. So use that to judge the right amount of salt to use.
Green chili peppers (jalapenos are fine)—6, sliced four ways along the length and then once or twice across. Chilies bring flavorful heat to the mix. While lemons trapped sunshine, chilies captured sun’s heat.
Ginger—thumb size piece, thinly sliced
Garlic—2 table spoons of thickly sliced cloves. This root and bulb are all earth tones, nurtured to fullness in the dark underground, away from the prying rays of the sun. Peel or scrape their skins off before slicing them.
Curry leaves – 2 stalks (strip the leaves off the stalk). Leaves are the true intermediary between the mother and father of all life. Take a close look at these curry leaves and you will see a loving couple holding hands.
Sesame Oil —¾ cup. Toasted, avaiable in all groery stores.
Mustard seeds—1 tablespoon. Small.
Methi (fenugreek) seeds—1 tea spoon. Seeds are the fullness of love as well as the potential for new life. They are the culmination of the love affair between the Sun and the Soil and also the promise of yet another cycle of this never ending love affair. Even when popped and fried in oil, mustart and methi maintain their own distinct notes.
Red chili powder—2 table spoons for a hot pickle, less for a milder one
Turmeric powder—½ to 1 tea spoon
Asafetida powder—1 pinch.
These powders are yet more personifications of Sun’s bright heat and earth’s dark secrets.Sugar— ½ tea spoon. Sugar is sweetness of sap transformed into crystals of delight by the Sun’s heat and toil of human hands. We use sugar in a spicy pickle to remind ourselves of the essential sweetness of food and the awesome sweetness of God’s grace that nourishes us more than food.There are other celebrations too that mark the transitions of early spring. Maha Sivarathri (the great night of the Lord Siva) frequently falls near Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Nowruz, the Persian New Year is celebrated at the start of spring. The “spring forward” of Day Light Saving time trades the cool sunshine of the mornings for more of the warmer light of the evenings.Heat the oil in a wok. Bring it to a heat high enough to pop mustard seeds but not burn them. Toss in the mustard seeds.
Immediately cover the wok to keep the popping mustard seeds inside the wok. Quickly lower the heat to medium so the seeds keep popping but don’t burn. Wait till mustard stops popping. Add chicory seeds. Toast them well but not so much they end up burnt. Add curry leaves. Wait till they are toasted. Toss in green chilies, garlic and ginger. Sauté till the garlic turns light brown. Add red chili powder and turmeric powder. Sauté long enough to fry the mixture, all the while stirring the contents of the wok. Again, avoid frying the spices. Now add the lemon pieces and turn off heat. But don’t take the wok off the hot stove. Toss the wok contents so everything is uniformly mixed. Sprinkle asafetida and sugar. Gently stir them in.
Now take the wok off the hot stove. Wait for the contents to cool. Bottle and keep in fridge.While enjoying the pickles, remember to thank the plentiful blessings of God, the sun, the earth and the skill of human hands.
Jojy Michael enjoys making lemon pickles using this recipe from his mother. This article is dedicated to all Mothers and Fathers and to the guiding light of Lent.