January always makes me think about citrus. It is the time of year when we find Clementines, Meyer lemons, Seville oranges, blood oranges and fruits from Florida. The colours, aromas and tastes of citrus brighten up cold winter days. This month I will focus on citrus beginning with Preserved Lemons.
Preserved lemons are central to North African cuisines. They add a bright, salty, tang to Moroccan tagines, roast chicken, pasta, labneh, salads, grain bowls, vinaigrettes and sauces. Technically speaking, preserved lemons are fermented in a brine created with salt and lemon juice. It takes about a month for the lemon rinds to soften to a desirable texture through the fermentation process. Once this is achieved, the lemons will last in the fridge for up to a year. Although it is possible to use the entire preserved lemon, it is more typical to use only the rind, thinly sliced or minced.
Any well-scrubbed lemon is fine to use, but I prefer Meyer lemons that have a thin skin and a gentle flavour. Some older recipes use far too much salt, but updated recipes have addressed this issue achieving the right ratio of salt to acid. I like the recipe from “The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving”.
After thoroughly washing 8 to 10 lemons, place each with stem-side down on a cutting board. Cut through almost to the bottom making an X pattern. Open the lemon like a flower and massage in 1 tsp.(5ml) of pickling salt. Close the lemon and put into a 1 litre jar pressing down to release juices. Repeat with lemons packing tightly into the jar leaving a 1 inch headspace. Squeeze juice from remaining lemons and pour into jar to cover the lemons. They must be kept submerged to keep them safe so add additional lemon juice as needed. Cover the jar with plastic wrap and screw on lids and rings. Leave on the counter for 3 days to kick-start the fermentation process. Then move to the fridge.
Let your imagination run wild with applications of the preserved lemons to your cooking. Whether adding to soups, sauces, vegetables, meats, grains or pressed yogurt, it will brighten the dish in taste and appearance. Preserving lemons is a simple, quick way to capture the sun in a jar during the winter months.
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