Tuesday, April 7, 2009

preserved lemons - manna from heaven

I had my first taste of preserved lemon when some delicate little curls of them were stationed atop a delicious spring risotto last year at Casbah. I am a lover of all things lemony, and these little bites bursting with salty, lemony brightness just rocked my world. But, it was one of the things I assumed was strictly the business of restaurants, and that I could never make something that ethereal in my own humble kitchen. But, then I stumbled across a very simple recipe for them, and undertook it--only about 20 minutes of kitchen time, and then a couple months of waiting, and voila: perfection!

I looked at a bunch of recipes online, and ultimately decided to forego any added seasonings because I wanted to be able to use them for a variety of purposes--although next time I might do them the Morroccan way because that sounds utterly heavenly, too. (David Lebovitz has some nice instructions and recipes here). So, next time you're at the market, grab a big bag of organic lemons (you definitely want organic here since you're going to be eating the skin), and some coarse sea salt, a jar, and you're ready to go.

Here's what I did:
Scrub 12 organic lemons (I preserved 8 of them, and used the others just for their juice). Here's another tip: whenever I'm juicing citrus, I always zest it first--whether or not I need it for the recipe--and keep it in the freezer. That way I always have some zest on hand when I need it. It's pretty great for sprinkling on lots of things.

Anyhow, I scrubbed my lemons, and juiced 4 of them. I got my jar ready, and made sure it and the lid were scrubbed clean. For the other eight lemons that were on their way to being preserved, I cut just the hard tip off of both ends, and then on one end I cut vertically twice in an X shape until about 1 1/2" from the other end (so, like you're quartering it lengthwise, but stopping shy of separating the quarters).

Now, you want to pack those babies with the salt--don't be shy, really pack it in there. And, throw about 1" of salt in the bottom of your jar. Now, start loading up the jar with the lemons, and really squish them in there tightly to get them to give up some juice. Keep doing this until all your lemons are packed in tightly, and squished. Throw another few tablespoons of salt over them, and then fill up the jar to the tippy-top with the lemon juice. Now, just set it on your kitchen counter, and admire it. And, also give it a few turns/shakes daily for about 4-6 weeks.

Now, open them up, and enjoy! You're going to use the rind here, so just slice it off, and discard the flesh. Use it in pretty much everything.

I used it to make a really fantastic risotto for Sunday Dinner. I just made a straight-up risotto: melt some butter, add some onion and garlic (1/2 an onion and 3 cloves of garlic), cook for a few minutes, add the aborio rice (2 cups), cook for a couple more minutes, and then start adding broth--and a couple glugs of marsala--1 cup at a time, stir, stir, stir while it soaks up each addition (adding about 3-4 cups of broth all told). It should take about 20-25 minutes. Then finish it with whatever goodness you want. For this one I added: 1/2 c. grated parmesan, some freshly ground pepper, some chopped chives and basil, and one of my preserved lemons (sliced off the skin of 1 lemon, and did a small dice). Sprinkle it with a little more of each of those things upon serving. I'd planned to also add some steamed asparagus and peas, but forgot. Ah well, still fantastic.

I served that as a main dish with some roasted green beans with onions, garlic, toasted walnuts and a drizzle of balsamic (from a Mollie Katzen recipe in The New Moosewood Cookbook), and some chive-parmesan popovers (from this month's Vegetarian Times magazine - April 2009). FYI - if you make those popovers, add a little more salt and pepper than the recipe calls for; and I made some in a proper popover pan, and the rest in a regular muffin tin. The ones in the popover pan turned out way better (the muffin tin ones were a little tough on the outer edge, as opposed to the popover pan ones that were perfectly crisp-ish).

It was a lovely meal, and tasted of spring--especially with the gorgeous weather (and then there's today - snow!? really?!). Here's a pic. See those lovely little flecks of preserved lemon in the risotto. Pure love.


ps. stay tuned. Barbara and I are having dinner at Eleven on Friday for my birthday. I can't wait!

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