Preserved Lemons

Good morning Saturday, good morning coffee, good morning sunshine. We’ve had our first thaw and the dunes of snow have melted away, leaving little islands of dirty ice here and there in seas of dead grass. The snow was prettier, but I’m happy for the sunshine, the vitamin D, the seratonin. I have a bit of a dull  head today from yesterday’s poker night, in which I lost my shirt (not literally–not that kind of poker), but did so with some aplomb for a beginner, according to Dustin.

Chalcy made me dinner last night, and I met her friends Dominique and Sandrine, who were traveling from Normandy to do various WWOOFing projects throughout the Midwest. It’s a program I’ve been hearing more about lately (though it’s been around since the seventies)–a worldwide network in which labor is exchanged on small, organic farms for food, lodging, and education about sustainable farming. It sounds wonderful: cultural exchange around food and growing practices; meeting people with the only common denominator being work and food. It seems to reflect a greater cultural romanticism in America–the idea of earthiness and labor as the exotic in a foreign exchange (unlike the yearning for ancient cosmopolitan cities when I was an exchange student). Anyways, they seemed to be having a great time. They were lovely people, and gracious about the six ill-pronounced words I know in French.

I was going to post my mushroom-pea risotto today (as Dominique and Sandrine seemed especially excited when I told them I liked to make it), which is  another recipe that benefits greatly from the preserved lemons Rachel bestowed upon me in December. But I realized I should first go ahead and give you the recipe to these delicious puppies outright. Perhaps you might want to make them yourselves instead of substituting regular lemon all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, a regular lemon is a fine thing in and of itself. Sometimes, it just takes a squeeze to bring out flavors you never thought possible in a dish. But these are lemons on steroids. The Ahhnold of lemons. The northern African practice of preserving them in brine and spices brings out the citrusy oils until they buzz. They are salty, so, depending on the recipe, you may want to rinse them off or adjust your use of salt considerably.

Preserved Lemons
from Mark Bittman‘s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
Makes about 1 quart

1 cup Kosher salt
3 pounds lemons, washed, dried, then halved
1 cinnamon stick
2 or 3 cloves
1 pinch of saffron
4 or 5 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 to 3 cardamon pods

Sterilize a 1-quart canning jar and sprinkle a ¼-inch-deep layer of Kosher salt on the bottom. Place ¼ of the lemons in the bottom, sprinkling with more salt. Repeat this process, adding the spices along the way. When the jar is about ¾ full, squeeze the remaining lemons into the jar, seeds and all, so the fruit is completely submerged in the lemon and salt brine. If the juice doesn’t cover the lemons, add more lemon juice. Cover the jar with the sterilized cap.

Leave the jar out on a counter for 7-10 days, shaking it once a day during the curing time (you’ll notice interesting chemical things going on during that time, as the mixture bubbles and the spices swell up).

Move the jar into the refrigerator for the next week to continue curing the lemons before you use them. When they have finished curing, remove the lid and smell. They should smell sweet with a citrusy aroma – if you smell ammonia, the lemons are no good and should not be used (this means that air got in during the process or your jar wasn’t sterile).

If you are using the lemons in a stew or a tagine, you can blanch them in boiling water for 10 seconds to remove a little of the heavy saltiness. For salads or other quickly cooked dishes, remove the flesh and blanch the peel in boiling water, then add to dishes.


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About Kate Soto

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