What the Heart Wants
Now that it is officially autumn, we seek warmth wherever we can find it. If you've been keeping up with foodie trends, then you may have noticed that foods from the Arab world are on the up and up. Morocco has been quite popular of late, and the tagine, with its heady spiciness, is the perfect stew to keep you warm.
A key ingredient to the tagine is the preserved lemon. Although you can easily find preserved lemons in Middle Eastern/North African shops, they are not that difficult to make. And the flavour is often better when homemade. All you need is a little time.
Yields 4 preserved lemons
4 organic or unwaxed lemons
200g/1 cup sea salt
200g/1 cup sugar
10 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 Tbs cumin seeds
Wipe the lemons clean with a damp cloth. Quarter each lemon, and remove any visible pips. Set aside.
Roughly chop the herbs, and mix with the sugar, salt and cumin seeds.
In a lidded 500ml/1 pint jar, spoon in a 1cm/½" layer of the salt mix.
Layer in a few lemon wedges. Sprinkle generously with salt, and continue layering until the jar is full.
Finish with a layer of salt to the very top of the jar.
Cover the jar, press down on the contents if necessary.
Hold on to any left-over salt for later use.
Sneak a peak after a week: there should be a pool of brine at the top of jar, and there may have formed a gap at the top. Fill the gap with any left-over salt mix.
Check on the lemons weekly to ensure that they are always under dry salt or brine: if the lemons start to peak out, push them back under.
The lemons will be ready to use after a month. They will improve greatly with time, and if you have the patience, wait at least three months before plucking a wedge out of the brine. Only the peel -zest and pith- are used: simply peel the wedge as you would an orange. Before discarding the flesh, squeeze the juice back into the jar to top up the brine. Chop the peel, and use wherever: substitute for lemon zest, even in sweet things... The flavour boost is incredible.
Also, do not discard the brine! Even though the liquid from most commercially preserved lemons is bitter, this brine should have a pleasant balance of sweet, sour and salty: it can be used instead of lemon juice, but do be sure to omit all other salt in the recipe. This brine can also be re-used to preserve another batch of lemons.