Monday, July 27, 2009

well preserved

No matter how many times I recite that familiar mantra on the way to the farmers market "I will not overbuy, I will not overbuy", something happens to me when I get there. I get out of my car, grab my fabulous expandable shopping bag, all the while remembering self control is a good thing.

But as I walk in and smell the strawberries, see the plethora of lovely lettuces piled high or notice those yellow zucchini blossoms...something happens. I inevitably end up in some sort of fresh fruit and vegetable trance, and then proceed to go to town filling up my shopping bag.

Once I get home with half of the market in tow, I usually get that "You need to join a group" look from my husband. Now in my defense, I have been cooking up a storm, finding new and creative ways to use up all of these wonderful finds. But still, I must confess there are those times that I open up my fridge and see those beauties, that don't look quite so alluring as they did at the farmers market days before. I feel guilty when I see them wrinkling, browning and bruising, just waiting for me to get inspired.

So to ward off some of the guilt as well as preserve some of the bounty that is in season. I have been boning up on recipes and techniques for putting up small batches of seasonal foods to enjoy later in the year.

To that end I will be sharing with you my findings...the first of which is preserved lemons. I actually used Meyer lemons, while the trees produce fruit throughout the year, the majority of the crop is available in winter. It is native to China, and thought to be a cross between a true lemon and a mandarin orange. The fruit is yellow and rounder than a true lemon with a slight orange tint when ripe. It has a sweeter, less acidic flavor than the more common lemon and a fragrant edible skin. Which makes it a perfect candidate of preserving.

Preserved lemons are a staple in Moroccan cuisine, but can be adapted to many other dishes. They add a wallop of flavor to any dish that calls for strong lemon flavor, including condiments like homemade mayonnaise and vinaigrette. However, they are intense and should be used in moderation. There are about a thousand recipes for preserved lemons out there. This one, I like best and is a confluence of many. I like the tangeriney quality of Meyer lemons, but you can preserve any kind of lemons with this recipe.

Preserved lemons are a type of pickle made by the dry salt method: brined in salt and the lemon's own juices. After the curing process, they are stored in the refrigerator.


Preserved Meyer Lemons
makes 2 pints
10 Meyer lemons, regular lemons, or a combination, scrubbed
1/2 cup kosher salt

With a sharp knife, remove the stem ends of 6 of the lemons. Slice the lemons into quarters from pole to pole.

Bring 2 wide-mouth pint jars and their bands to a boil in a large pot of water fitted with a rack. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars with tongs (the tongs don't need to be sterilized). Simmer new lids in a small pan of hot water to soften the rubberized flange. When the jars are dry but still hot, shove the lemon wedges into the jars, trying not to crush the fruit too much, but do pack them in, sprinkling 3 tablespoons of salt per jar as you go and making sure the salt is well distributed throughout. Meyer lemons are softer than regular lemons and therefore easier to squash down in the jar.

Juice the remaining 4 lemons. Top each jar with 1 final tablespoon of salt, then distribute the juice between the jars, making sure the lemon wedges are completely covered with juice. If you see air bubbles along the side of the jar, slip a butter knife down into it and press aside the fruit to allow juice to fill the space. You may need more juice depending on the juiciness of your lemons. Set on the lids, and screw on the bands fingertip tight. Let the lemons ferment on your kitchen counter for 2 weeks for Meyer lemons, 3 to 4 weeks for regular lemons, which have tougher skins, and ferment until they are soft enough to tear. Turn the jars upside down every other day to make sure the salt stays well distributed. The lemons will become soft and the salt and juice mixture syrupy. Transfer the fermented jars to the refrigerator, where they will hold for up to 6 months.
To use, remove a lemon wedge and scrape off the seeds. If you see white stuff on the lemons, don't worry: it's just a precipitate of salt, oils, and whatever from the pith. Scrape the pith off the lemons before using. For a milder taste, rinse before cooking.

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