Sunday, December 18, 2011

Obsession: Preserved Lemons

There are many gifts of winter. citrus being one of them. Isn't it amazing that during these cold, short, often dark days the seasonal fruit is so optimistic and cheerful? Isn't nature so perfect! I am obsessed with preserved lemons. I put them in nearly everything, with the exception of my morning coffee perhaps.
Their origin begins in North Africa though the preserving and drying of lemon and limes is evident in the Middle East and Southern India as well. They add complexity , texture and livliness to any dish you grace with them. They will render a chicken sublime. I recently made pizzas in the brick oven with preserved lemons, lamb, fresh mint and goat cheese. I prefer to use Meyer lemons as their skins are thin and they have that beautiful golden yellow color and the faint hint of orange. 
I am a lazy cook, and prefer to let my ingredients do the work , letting them be the star of their own show and tend not to mess too much with them. You can find many recipes for preserving lemons on the web and there are some interesting variations that add to their dimension such as a cinnamon stick, or a bay leaf, or a soupicon of red and pink peppercorns. They are, like pickled beets, jewels in a jar and make a noteworthy gift or offering. Here is my lazy version of the process.... You basically halve or quarter several pounds of Meyer lemons ( regular ones will do as well) put them in a bowl and cover them liberally with a good sea salt and a bit of sugar, place them in jars and fill half way up with fresh lemon juice. You can also add the different ingredients at this point. If you are being greedy and do not want to give them away, you can do this process in one large jar, hoarding, if you will. Leave them out where you can admire their beauty and intelligence and give each jar a daily shake up (with love, of course).... after about 7 days you can top the jars off with extra virgin olive oil, and then refrigerate...they keep quite a long time, if you don't eat them all up quickly, which you may!

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