Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Preserved Lemons

Photo by Steve Shanahan
First published Canberra Times 15 December 2010.
Although you can buy preserved lemons, there is something particularly satisfying and tastier when you make them yourself. If you are lucky enough to own alemon tree or you can befriend someone who does, why not confit a crop for yourself, or give a jar as a Chrissy gift?

When preserving lemons yourself, try and buy the smaller ones, which might mean having to dig through the lemon mounds in the vege shop or market. While searching for the perfect lemons, don’t do as I did, and upset the artfully arranged lemon mound in search of the elusive sized fruit.

Preserved lemons bring an exotic flavour to simple salads, couscous, lentils or warmed olives, although their standout role is the piquant, lemony infusion they give to marinated meat. Preserved lemon and meat, are meant for each other especially when used in dishes, such as chicken tagine, marinated lamb, beef kebabs and fish dishes. They can also be used to flavour sweets, such as biscuits, cakes, macarons and ice cream. Use your imagination, but use it sparingly as their flavour and saltiness can be quite intense. If you find the lemons a little too salty, wash them before using them in your cooking.

Aside from their many uses, there is something nurturing about watching your lemons mature, a friend of mine said to me it’s f like watching a bottle of sea monkeys come to life, or a bud coming into flower. I think I’ll go with the flower thing, I’ve never been terribly fond of sea monkeys.

I choose unsprayed lemons because the skin of the lemon is used in cooking, rather than the flesh.. You will need about 5 to 6 small lemons with about 8 or so large lemons extra, used for juicing. Keep a few extra lemons on hand for topping up the bottle with juice a couple of days later as the lemons need to stay submerged in liquid while they mature. Use sea salt as this provides a better flavour than regular table salt. To preserve 5 to 6 lemons you will need a sterilised 1.2 litre jar.

5 to 6 small lemons, washed
8 larger lemons for juicing (to make about 500ml juice)
6 to 7 tbsp sea salt
2 cinnamon sticks
4 to 6 bay leaves
6 cardamom pods, just split
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 to 3 tbsp olive oil

Quarter the small lemons without cutting all the way through. Open up a lemon and sprinkle 2 teaspoons of salt inside. Close tightly and place in the sterilised jar, sprinkling with another teaspoon of salt. Repeat process with the remaining small lemons.

Cover the lemons in the jar with a round of baking paper. Squash down with a clean weight, such as a large stone wrapped in foil. Put the lid on and leave in a warm place for 2 to 3 days to let the juices run out.

Remove the weight and add the cinnamon, bay leaves, cardamom pods and peppercorns randomly through the jar. Top with the freshly squeezed lemon juice, covering the lemons entirely. Pour over the olive oil which acts as a seal. Top up with extra lemon juice after a few days if needed. Replace the lid and store in a cool, dark place for a few weeks.

To use, remove a lemon and rinse with water. Scrape out and discard the flesh, and use the finely chopped skin in your cooking. Once opened, store in the fridge for up to 6 months.

Moroccan Dressing

Use this dressing with grilled chicken or meat.
100ml extra virgin olive oil
40 to 60 ml of lemon juice
1 birdseye chilli, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1-2 tbsp finely chopped preserved lemon

Whisk together all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. Adjust the lemon juice according to taste and season with salt and ground black pepper.