Preserved lemons: a savory flavor for spring

Preserved lemons are among the simplest recipes of all.  Simply wash lemons, cut a 1/4″ slice off each end, then either nearly quarter or quarter, depending on your jars.  Liberally rub the lemons with coarse kosher salt, then pack in the jars until they release enough juice to cover.  Set aside for 6 weeks – and that’s it!IMG_4830IMG_4829

A little bit of finely chopped preserved lemon adds a lemon-y flavor to dishes without the sour, acidic taste, and also adds a little salt.  My two favorite ways to use them are in grain-based salads and stews.  When preparing the grain for a salad, for example cooking brown rice, add the rinsed minced lemon to the grain just for last 5 minutes.  Add your vegetables, a little oil, lemon juice or vinegar and seasonings.IMG_4828

For stews, simply add the chopped lemon along with cooking liquid.  It works well with tomatoes, peppers and garlic, and the protein you add such as chicken, firm fish or pork, will absorb the flavor as it slowly cooks.

I was lucky to come across fresh grape leaves and made dolmas filled with rice, lemon and chives.  Just remember to reduce the salt you add to the dish when you use preserved lemons.IMG_4813

Asparagus and Brown Rice Salad with Preserved Lemon

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 quarter preserved lemon (a wedge, 1/4 of a whole lemon)
  • 2 bunches fresh asparagus
  • 1/3 c olive oil
  • 1/2  fresh lemon for juice
  • fresh ground pepper and additional salt – but taste first!
  • Cook brown rice in 2 cups water.  While it is cooking, rinse the preserved lemon, remove any seeds, and finely chop.  Add to the rice during the last 5 minutes of cooking, covered.  Meanwhile, cut asparagus into 1/2″ pieces and blanche briefly and drain.  While the asparagus is still warm, put in a large bowl and add oil, part of the lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper.  Toss, and add the warm lemon-scented rice.  Toss again, add salt and lemon juice as desired.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.

A Bounty of Backyard Fruit / Grapefruit Marmalade Rule of 6

Although my sister Martha had already given me an enormous bag of juicy, sweet pink grapefruit from her tree, she told me that ‘it barely made a dent, you have to come pick more!’  So today I went out with a large cache of reusable bags plus my biggest laundry basket, and came home with a carful of pink grapefruit, limes and lemons.  My niece Emily took the lead and filled bags and even loaded them in my car, and I estimate I’ve got about 130 pounds.  We’re going to share the grapefruit fresh, so the Co-op basket is loaded with the first grapefruit distribution now.IMG_4410

Preserving options are marmalade and also candied grapefruit peel.  Be careful using grapefruit in a mixed fruit marmalade – it overwhelms everything else.  I’ve found it is better to just make a simple grapefruit marmalade using the marmalade rule of 6: cook 6 cups of prepared fruit in 6 cups of water, let sit for about 6 hours, then measure out 6 cups of cooked fruit mixture, bring to a boil and add 6 cups of sugar.  Bring to a gel stage (about 20 minutes) then can and process 10 minutes.

We’ll salt some of the lemons and limes for Moroccan preserved citrus.  In addition to adding this to stews and couscous, it is also a welcome addition to a winter boiled meal of potatoes and greens.  Boil new potatoes, add any sort of greens you like for the last 15 minutes along with minced preserved lemon.  It not only perks up the cooked greens with a citrus brighness, it adds the salt the dish needs.

sourdough mini loaves with zatar and feta / flatbreads

If you’ve gotten comfortable with your sourdough bread, here’s something a little different.  When you dump the dough onto your floured tray for the second proofing, divide the dough in half.  Let it proof about an hour.  Preheat your dutch oven as usual.  Take out your insanely-hot dutch oven and dump one of the halves into it, spreading it out as much as you can  -which is difficult as the dough is moist and super-springy. Poke into it roughly with a floured wooden spoon – or the edge of your bench scraper – to push it to the sides of the pot. Dot with crumbled feta cheese, lightly spritz with olive oil, and liberally sprinkle with zatar.  Put the lid on, bake 20 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 10 minutes.  With the second half, maybe just spritz with oil and sprinkle with zatar for the vegans and dairy-averse.  It is also terrific with olive tapenade, as well as roquefort cheese and black pepper.

sourdough minis with zatar and feta

sourdough minis with zatar and feta

crusty, moist and chewy with nice big holes, this batch has a spoonful of whole flax seeds in the dough.

crusty, moist and chewy with nice big holes, this batch has a spoonful of whole flax seeds in the dough.

Persimmon harvest in the Bay Area

Tim and I were invited by an old friend to harvest some of her family’s Fuyu persimmons for the Co-op.  Despite filling 6 bags, about 75 pounds of fruit, I estimate we harvested less than 10% of this one tree’s persimmons.  This family also shared their sweet, juicy Valencia oranges.  Again, this is a fantastic micro-climate for fruit.  (Google: plant an orchard!)1114131451aThe Bay Area has many of these persimmon trees, as they do really well in the climate there.  Here in Los Angeles, Eagle Rock and Glendale have the most persimmon trees, from my unofficial tally.  This sumptuous fruit only appears for a couple of months once a year, so Co-op members are enjoying them fresh as we contemplate making chutney.  (The Fuyu can be eaten when firm, like an apple, and are not astringent like the Hachiya which must be soft-ripe.) Meanwhile, I dried some of them, and they are fantastic. I don’t have a dehydrator so I used my oven, set at 170, the lowest setting. I sliced a bit off the end, then into 1/4″ slices and placed on a baker’s cooling rack on a baking sheet. 1119131804a 1119131804e 1119131813a 1119131810 After 5 hours, I switched the pan positions, and after another 5 hours, took them out.  That is a total of 10 hours in the oven at the lowest setting.  Now we’ll be able to have persimmons in April – if I can successfully squirrel these delish morsels away!

Passion Fruit in Nichols Canyon, right in the middle of Los Angeles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShan’s passion fruit were one of our favorite Co-op projects last year.   This year her vine is producing an even more abundant crop! She calls them her ‘baskets of Easter eggs in the kitchen’.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe use the whole fruit technique in our preserves and marmalade, in which the seedy center is scraped out and then the shells are boiled and peeled for the pectin-rich pulp.  The only thing that goes into compost is the thin, papery shell and some of the seeds.  To strain out the seeds, give the seedy juice a quick whirl in the blender, then put that in a strainer and let gravity extract all the juice.  All we add to the tart juice and relatively tasteless pulp is sugar, as this whole fruit has exactly what is needed to set up a perfect preserve.  Adding the chopped pulp gives it body and texture as well as pectin, and if someone has some oranges, those go in as well.  Simply core, seed, and thinly slice the whole orange and boil it briefly to soften, then add that to the mixture.  We use the standard ratio of 1:1, that is, 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of fruit.  Like all preserves, it works best when done in batches of 6, or 6 cups of fruit boiled with 6 cups of sugar. IMG_2363You can see step by step instructions in an earlier post on this blog.  If you have some passion fruit, first, congratulations, and second, try making preserves.  Although there are several steps, it is actually relatively easy.  And your house will smell extraordinary!


White nectarines – simple canning may develop flavor

ImageThe Co-op received about 50 pounds of white nectarines, which were harvested fairly green.  These are so delicate when ripe that it does make sense to harvest them early, but the flavor was not well-deveoped.  In the past 3 years we have made preserves and jam with these, but this year I wanted to try simply canning the pitted fruit in a light simple syrup.  Perhaps the canning process will develop the flavor?  We’ll open a jar and taste the fruit in another ten days.  If it doesn’t pass muster, they may be turned into chutney, or perhaps salsa.Image