Mama’s Punjabi Recipes: Nimbu Achaar, Namak Bina (Saltless Lemon Pickle)


By popular demand from those restricted to a salt-free diet, below is a reprint of Mama’s Salt-less Nimbu Achaar recipe. A little of this pickle can add a little zest in otherwise bland food. It is reprinted with some additional information and directions.

Many people, especially the elderly, are restricted to a salt-free diet for health reasons, mostly heart disease related. For these people, in order to enjoy their food, it is important to find alternate methods to add flavor to an otherwise bland diet and several natural ingredients offer some help, like nimbu (lemons or limes); adrak (ginger), amchoor (green mango powder) or sirka (vinegar). Although sodium-free salt is also available, it is high in potassium, which some people cannot tolerate.

Lemons grow on small evergreen trees that are native to Asia and India, Mexico, China, Argentina, and Brazil produce 59% of total production. The sour juice of the yellow fruit is used both for cooking and cleaning purposes while the pulp and rind are also used in cooking and baking.

The juice of the lemon is upto 6% citric acid, with a pH of around 2.2, giving it a sour taste which makes it a key ingredient in drinks and foods such as lemonade and lemon meringue pie. Lemon juice is also used as a short-term preservative on certain foods that tend to oxidize and turn brown after being sliced, such as apples, bananas, and avocados, where its acid denatures the enzymes.

Indian cuisine hardly ever uses lemons or lemon juice except in pickles or as a garnish for salads and on some savory snacks like chaat or as a rub for roasted corn-on-the-cobs. And nimbus are almost never used in Indian sweets or even in murrabas (preserves).


500gm nimbu (lemons), preferably the small, round yellow ones
1 cup sirka (white vinegar);  
1 tsp chinni (sugar)
Spices (to taste): mirch (red pepper), if desired


1. Wash the lemons; wipe and dry them well. Make sure there is no water at all on them otherwise the achaar will not last as long and will spoil quickly.
2. Cut the lemons in half and place the halves in a glass jar. If you want and have the patience, pick out the seeds for a much more appreciated pickle.
3. Pour the vinegar into the jar, close the lid and shake the contents vigorously.
4. Place the jar in the sunlight for a week to allow the lemons to ferment and soften. Make sure to shake the contents vigorously at least once everyday.
5. After a week, pour in the sugar (and the mirch, if desired) and shake the contents again, leave again in the sun for a day.
6. Check if the lemons are tender and ready to eat. The more the pickle stays in the vinegar, the softer and tastier it will become.
7. Eat the achaar with any dish or but itself with a crispy parantha. It is tasty to eat the achaar with crusty white bread too. Enjoy!!!




Many people love to eat achaars and relish the tart and sour taste that they add to their meals. Most of the achaars they use are ready-made, store bought brands which are often loaded with spices, but most of all a staggering amount of salt that is used as a preservative.

Usually it is a good idea to keep any achaar in the fridge so that it won’t spoil. This is especially true of the homemade ones for which the greatest threat to longevity is water that may have crept while making them.  These homemade achaars, can be kept un-refrigerated for many weeks as long as there is no water in them and the lid on the bottle is tightly closed.


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Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur, India (since renamed Faisalabad) before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her late-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share her delectable Punjabi vegetarian recipes for future generations.