Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunshine in a Jar

My jar of homemade Preserved Lemons
Summer is upon us, and we crave the bright, sunshiny flavor of lemon in our food.  Nothing says summer quite like a squeeze of fresh lemon on our grilled fish and veggies, shrimp and salads.  We make a tall pitcher of lemonade, add freshly squeezed lemon juice to our cocktails, or brighten our water with lemon slices.

But there's another way to add the wonderful flavor of lemons to our dishes without the sharpness they can sometimes have.  Preserved Lemons is an ingredient that enhances the flavor of anything we put it in, and adds a whole new layer of depth and dimension to our recipes.

The first time I heard about Preserved Lemons was on a cooking show, and I thought it was interesting, but not particularly compelling.  I couldn't imagine what the point was ... if I wanted lemon in my dishes, I would simply use fresh ones.

Then one day I was invited to my sister's house for dinner and tasted some of the lovely roasted vegetables she had made.  They were fantastically delicious, but I couldn't quite place the flavor.  I had roasted many a vegetable in my day, and none had tasted as wonderful as these, so I asked her what she had done to make them so amazing.  She revealed that the secret ingredient was Preserved Lemons.  I was instantly sold!

Now when I see Preserved Lemons as an ingredient on a menu item, or included in a recipe, I jump at the chance to try it!  Preserved Lemons are often used in Moroccan and Middle Eastern cooking, so that may be why I enjoy those cuisines so much, as well.  But now that I have become an aficionado of this tasty ingredient, I've discovered many different uses for them. lemons are tender and mellow, salty and flavorful, without the sharp tartness of fresh lemons.  They add such a wonderful note to any recipe, compliment other sweet and salty ingredients, and seem to make every dish special.

You can buy jars of Preserved Lemons wherever specialty food items are sold, in many grocery stores now, and online.  You can also make them very easily yourself at home.  The traditional way to make Preserved Lemons is to quarter the lemons not quite all the way through so that the sections remain attached, and then fill with a generous amount of sea or kosher salt.  Then they're packed whole into a jar, topped off with freshly squeezed lemon juice, and allowed to "preserve" in a cool, dark place for at least a month.

My version: thinly sliced.
However, after some consideration, I decided to slice my lemons instead, in order to make them easier to handle and portion when I'm ready to use them.  This also allows me to remove the seeds in advance, rather than as an extra step while cooking.  Sliced lemons also preserve faster than whole quarters, if time is a consideration..  All things considered, this seemed like the better method for me.

The lemons take a few weeks to preserve, and the longer they're left, the better the flavor.  You can also use Meyer lemons, limes or even make preserved oranges if you wish to experiment with different flavors.  You can make them with only salt, or add a variety of spices such as peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, crushed red pepper flakes, cardamom, star anise, or bay leaves, as well, for a zestier version.

Typically only the rind of the Preserved Lemons is used in cooking, although the rest of the lemon also becomes mellowed and less bitter with the preservation process, so feel free to use all of it if you want.  When ready to use, simply rinse the lemon under running water to remove the excess salt, and slice as desired.

Try it in a classic Chicken Tagine (or Chicken with Preserved Lemons and Olives), in chickpea stew, with lentils, lamb or couscous.  Toss chopped pieces with roasted vegetables or rice pilaf.  Add these tender, little bits to quinoa, farro, barley or other grain salads and dishes.

Preserved Lemons add a wonderful accent to salads, salad dressings, vinaigrettes, or sandwiches.  Add some to your tuna salad, or chop them up with olives and garlic for an amazing crostini topping, or put a little on a cracker topped with goat cheese for a flavorful bite!

Cover the lemons with fresh, squeezed juice.
Process Preserved Lemons into your pesto and toss with pasta for a lemony touch that's not too assertive.  Or saut√© some pieces in butter and olive oil with garlic, capers, parsley and chicken to serve over steaming pasta for a beautiful Preserved Lemons version of Chicken Piccata.  In fact, you can add a touch of Preserved Lemons to just about any sauce you make for meat, vegetables or pasta.  You can also add finely chopped bits to pump up the flavor of salsa, guacamole, or hummus.

Try some in your deviled eggs, limoncello or next bloody mary!  Preserved Lemons are a natural accompaniment for fish, or you can slip them under the skin of a chicken before roasting.

Just about anywhere you would add a little bit of lemon zest or a squeeze of lemon juice is a good place to use your Preserved Lemons.

Once you try this fabulous ingredient for yourself, you'll find dozens of ways to use it in your own cooking.  And you'll come to appreciate lemons even more once you do!  Enjoy the sunshine!

1 comment:

  1. I've actually been wanting to make my own preserved lemon. Thanks for the recipe!