Sunday, January 16, 2011

Preserved Lemons

While in Paris this winter, we ate a small Moroccan restaurant frequented by friends who live nearby.  Le Tagine was wonderful.  They accommodated H's dietary needs and served tasty Moroccan cuisine in a nicely decorated room (I especially loved the punched metal sconces and light fixtures).  I had a delicious tagine of lamb, olives and preserved lemon and the flavors just burst in my mouth.  This was my second run in with preserved lemons in a week.  A few days before I had prepared a version of Charlie Palmer's "Ten-Hour" veal pappardelle that I had eaten in November at Metrazur, the Palmer restaurant in Grand Central Station.  The recipe calls for preserved lemons, to which I did not have ready access in a small French town over the Christmas holiday, so I did without, using lemon zest (BTW, the family loved it so even without preserved lemon, it is worth making - warning that it is time intensive - best for a long weekend).

Quarter the lemon but do not slice through
Open up the lemons and salt the interior

A jar of preserved lemons on their way
These two dishes got me thinking about preserved lemons (and the lack thereof in my kitchen).  It turns out they are really easy to make.

One of my activities this weekend was preserved lemon preparation.  I used the recipe at SimplyRecipes, but substituted regular lemons for Meyer lemons.  While I like Meyer lemons a lot, I wanted really zingy preserved lemons.  All you need is a clean/sterilized canning jar, kosher salt, and a slew of lemons (I think 8 or so went into my jar, plus the juice of two others).  Use organic lemons if at all possible, after all, it is the skins that are the part you will be using and who wants to eat pesticides?

Take a look at the link above for the details, but basically a couple tablespoons of salt go in the bottom of your jar, followed by lemons with the ends trimmed and then quartered, but not sliced through, that have been salted.  You squish the lemons down into the jar to release juice (I suspect the salt helps this process because they release a lot of juice).  Fill the jar and top off with extra juice (if needed) and a couple more tablespoons of salt.  They stay at room temp a few days and then continue to cure for a few weeks in the fridge until they are ready to use.  I cannot wait.  I am going to try to replicate that lamb, olive and preserved lemon dish from le Tagine.

Vinegar for Winter Health

In catching up on some backlogged magazine reading while on vacation this winter, I happened upon a recipe in ReadyMade magazine for herbal vinegar that is supposed to help boost the immune system to stave off winter health woes.  The recipe for the tincture is credited to Trilby Sedlacek, a registered herbalist in Iowa and owner of Green Angels Herbs & Healing Arts.  The recipe is easy - raw apple cider vinegar (such as Bragg) and fresh herbs of your choice (recommended are: nasturtium, mint, garlic, sage and basil).  You simply fill a clean/sterilized canning jar (a Ball jar) with herbs, not overpacking, and then fill the jar with vinegar.  You seal and let it sit for about two weeks at room temperature, shaking gently once in awhile.  Then you strain out the herbs, label and date the jar and start enjoying.  Note:  the Wild*Crafty blog recommends letting ther herb/vinegar mix sit for six weeks before decanting. 

Fresh, organic sage (left) and basil (right)

Bragg ACV
The chopped herbs, loosely packed

I  started my tincture this afternoon.  I chose sage and basil and I would recommend organic herbs if you can find them.  While garlic has many healing properties, unfortunately, both H & I recently tested as sensitive to it.  So, for the time being, it is out of our diets.   This took only a few minutes to make and now I just have to patiently wait for the tincture to be ready.

The finished product - ACV & herbs
Once the tincture has "matured" for a few weeks, you can use a few spoonfuls in salad dressings, sauces, soups/stews.  Or, if you are like me and love vinegar, have a few spoonfuls straight up!  For hot food, it is recommended to add after cooking so as not to destroy the healthful benefits of the raw vinegar. The theory behind the tincture is that the vinegar helps to extract the minerals from the herbs.  Unlike the strictly culinary vinegars that you can buy in gourmet groceries, which use just a small amount of herbs for their flavor properties, this type of tincture is prepared with larger quantities of herbs for their healthful properties - that they taste great too is an additional benefit!