By Riana Lagarde
When Life gives you Lemons
In the Orient’s colorful markets you will see bright and sunny foods reflective of the desert landscape: green and black olives all-shades from sand to khaki to midnight, heady spices in conical stacks of saffron-red, turmeric-yellow, and burnt-sienna coriander. I am a lemon fanatic–I can eat them raw with just a little salt like an apple–thus I am always drawn to the gorgeous Suns: salt-preserved lemons bobbing in clear glass jars in those sultry markets. Dreams of chicken, artichoke and preserved lemon tagines (see the end of the article for the recipe) dance in my head to the same dizzying beat as the whirling dervishes.
Besides lemon jellies and marmalades, freezing lemons’ peels and their juices in ice cube trays, you can preserve the entire lemon. The ancient Arabic method of preserving lemons is easy and only requires three simple ingredients: lemons, lots of salt and plenty of time.
Once they are preserved the idea is to scoop out the soft flesh which you can use for something else, then finely chop the soft peel before adding to your savory dish – they’re best added towards the end of cooking. This procedure comes from the ever-reliable Claudia Roden.
Salt Preserved Lemons
8 unwaxed lemons, preferably organic, if your lemons are waxed, it will not work
Around 4 Tablespoons of coarse sea salt
Cut each lemon into quarters, without going all the way through to the end. That leaves you with four petal star shape which you then pack with course sea salt. Squish the lemons into a sterilized preserving jar pressing down to release the lemon juice; seal and leave the jar on the counter for four days, so the salt draws out more the juice (it is very decorative as well). The skins will soften and the jar will be full of juice. You want high acidity, so top off the jar with fresh lemon juice; seal again.
Leave in cool (refrigerator or root cellar) place for about a month before beginning to use.
If the lemons are not covered by the juice all the way, they may develop a white mold which Roden says is harmless and should be washed off.
You can keep the juice after you’ve used the lemons, and start a new batch of lemons in the same jar. You might see a kind of lacy white substance in the jar as the lemons mature.
Use a wooden spoon to remove lemons from the jar.
Once you have your batch of preserved lemons, you start to wonder: What would I use preserved lemons for? You want to put them in everything! Anywhere that a little bit of mysterious lemoniness would be nice, preserved lemons are the ticket.
Consider: tossed in a green salad, potato salad, or pasta salad; over asparagus; over broccoli; over spinach; in melted butter for dipping artichokes; in couscous; in a stew of whatever, along with olives; in Spanish rice; with baked or mashed winter squash; as a garnish for carrot soup; as part of a Mediterranean-style gratin; with lentil stew; with penne and fresh tomato sauce; as part of a Greek egg-and-lemon soup; in a olive-oil pasta sauce; minced to the point of puree and mixed with butter and herbs to make a spread for cucumber sandwiches.
Two favorite preserved lemon uses: 1) Cut up and toss with root vegetables and whole unpeeled garlic cloves and olive oil and fresh ground black pepper and (opt) rosemary . Roast on a cookie sheet until all these things are soft as the lemons and crusty brown edged- with a good bread to mop it all up.
Satsumas: Very sweet, seedless, medium sized, free skinned
Clementines: Small, very orange, few seeds, very sweet
Canning: To extend the season of mandarins, they can be preserved as well. Peel, separate the segments, pack in jars with a sugar syrup (I add a touch of rose water) and be sure to process in a simmering hot water bath (30 minutes for pints, 35 minutes for quarts).
For desserts, use your syrup preserved mandarines over pound cake or ice cream with sprinkles of orange liqueur. Mandarin orange juice is good plain or blended with ice cream for a cool refresher.
Mandarins can also be used in marmalades, sauces, ciders or glazes or use the delicious segments topped on a spinach salad.
If you add extra lemon juice to up the acid for preserving, you can bottle your tangerines in the same fashion as salt preserved lemons. Then you can use them for savory dishes (omitting the salt in your recipes) like duck l’orange, chinese orange beef, minced meat pies, and spicy lamb tagines. I also chop them finely and mix with a black olive marinade for chicken or fish, and bbq sauces.
Lemon Chicken Tajine
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ tsp crushed saffron threads or saffron powder
¼-½ tsp ground ginger
1 chicken, jointed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ lemon, juice only
2 tbsp chopped coriander
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 small preserved lemons, peel only (don’t substitute fresh lemons for preserved; the taste and texture are completely different, and preserved lemons are super-easy to make. All you need is patience, a clean glass jar, and lots of salt.)
12-16 green or violet olives, either stoned or left whole
9 artichoke bottoms
1. In a wide casserole or heavy-bottomed pan that will fit the chicken pieces in one layer, heat the oil and add the onions. Sauté, stirring over a low heat, until softened, then stir in the garlic, saffron and ginger.
2. Add the chicken pieces, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and pour in about 300ml/10fl oz of water. Simmer, covered, turning the pieces over a few times and adding a little more water if it becomes too dry.
3. Lift out the breasts after 20 minutes and set aside. Continue to cook the remaining pieces for another 25 minutes, then return the breasts to the pan.
4. Stir in the lemon juice, coriander, parsley, preserved lemon peel and olives, then lift the chicken pieces and put the artichoke bottoms in the sauce beneath them. Add a little water if necessary and cook for about 10 minutes until the artichokes are tender. Serve with the olives and lemon peel on top of the meat.
4 tangerines or oranges
1 quart of juice and pulp
2 quarts water
Slice oranges and lemons is thinly as possible. Add the water and allow to stand covered in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
Cook over low heat until the rinds become tender. Cool and cut rinds into small pieces. Place in refrigerator and allow to stand another 24 hours.
Measure out fruit. To each quart of fruit add 1 quart of sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until marmalade thickens and the oranges are clear.
Ladle into hot sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Preserved Manderin Pudding
1 cup orange or mandarin juice, blood orange juice is beautiful for this
1 cup of syrup from the preserved manderins
10 preserved manderins divided into sections and pips removed, if any
1 ½ tablespoons corn starch or arrow root
seeds of ½ a pomegranate
1 cup heavy whipping cream,
Bring the orange or mandarin juice to the boil with the syrup and manderine sections, remove any pips.
Dissolve the cornflour in 250ml/9fl oz of water and pour it into the simmering juice, stirring vigorously. Continue to stir – in one direction only – until the mixture thickens, then cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes. Stir in cream and cook for five more minutes.
Let the orange or mandarin mixture cool and pour into a glass serving bowl, cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for a few hours.
Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the pudding and serve with more whipped cream if you wish.
Editor’s Note: Riana Lagarde is an intrepid urban homesteader living a slow life in Southern France. Although she’s been professionally writing about food and travel for magazines for several years, she has recently given up magazine writing to concentrate her efforts on raising chickens, gardening, and writing for her own publications.