Edible Gifts For Christmas: Preserved Lemons
I have a friend who never arrives at my house with a bottle of wine, but always with something she has made herself. It is always such a welcome and thoughtful gift. And I wonder before she arrives as to what she will be cradling in her basket. It could be a new recipe she has tried out, a jar of something seasonal (such as her quince marmalade) or, on the last occasion, a piece of gravlax. It’s always a real surprise.
In honour of Elaine, I decided to focus on edible gifts over the next few blog posts so that you might have something to reach for as you left the house. Most will be quite straightforward but I thought I would start off with one which would be a terrific present for any foodies – a jar of preserved lemons. If they are not sure how to use them, it will send them scurrying for their recipe books. It will keep them experimenting for as long as the jar lasts.
Preserved lemons are an intrinsic part of the Moroccan food culture and they can turn up in practically any savory dish on their table. There are many foods (such as olives) which are also cured and fermented in heavy salt, but this is the only one that is never eaten on its own but rather is used as a seasoning to enhance a dish and add an extraordinary depth of flavour. In Moroccan food, preserved lemons are used in fragrant lamb and vegetable tagines, in recipes such as chicken with lemons and olives, in couscous and in salads. Preserved lemons have a different accent depending on how they are used. Added to a tagine at the beginning of the cooking, they will perfume the whole dish and have a more pronounced flavour. Added at the end they will blend in more subtly and make less of a statement but still add an indescribable depth. If this is a new idea to you, be courageous. Making the preserved lemons takes very little time – just a little patience as you wait for them to mature. There are just three ingredients: lemon, salt and time. After one month, they are ready to use.
So why not get pickling… In my next post, I will explain how to make this incredible harissa to which you can add some preserved lemons. You can buy the preserved lemons but the homemade version is in a different league. And the jars look amazing all lined up on your shelves.
To fill a 1 litre jar
6 small lemons for pickling (unwaxed preferably), or 4 large lemons
A further 6-10 lemons for juicing
About 85g-100g Maldon sea salt
Scrub the lemons with a brush under running water and dry thoroughly. Standing the lemons on a chopping board, quarter them from the centre top to within 1 cm of the bottom. Now turn the lemon and make another incision perpendicular to the previous one, again stopping 1cm short of the base. Pour the salt into a large bowl. Holding one lemon at a time over the bowl, pick up some salt and push it into the quartered lemon. Don’t be afraid of adding too much. You will end up having about 2 tablespoons in each lemon. Push each lemon into the jar, pressing them down a little to release the juice. Repeat the process with the other lemons, pressing them down forcefully so that they will fit snugly together. Leave the jar covered overnight. Salt draws out the moisture so the lemons will soften a little. This may allow you to push another lemon into the jar the next day. The jar should be packed to the brim.
Juice the remaining lemons (you may need less or more) and pour the juice into the preserving jar, until the lemons are completely submerged. Seal the jar. Keep the lemons in a dark place, and shake every day for the first week, to redistribute the salt which sinks to the bottom. The lemons will be ready to use in a month and will keep for a year. Top up the lemon juice as required so that the lemons continue to be submerged. If you see a little bubbling on the side of the jar, this is part of the natural fermentation process.
Before use, rinse the lemons under running water. Place on a chopping board and remove the pulp from the centre and discard. Reserve the rind and use as stated in the recipe.