Jacqueline Soule here, on a lovely spring day, subbing for “Savor Sister” Martha who usually posts the second week of the month. As I write this some people are celebrating Passover and others are getting ready for Easter Sunday. Both holidays celebrating renewal and new life. Very appropriate because the entire Northern Hemisphere is experiencing spring and new life.
In my garden, the citrus trees are developing tiny young fruit from the fragrant flowers of last month. The older lemons from last year are all fully ripe and ready for harvest. I always wait to harvest my lemons at the point when they fall into my hand with the gentlest tug. Now they are fully flavorful and astonishingly juicy. Tart, yes, but barely acidic at all.
Since my lemon trees produced prodigiously this year I am working using all these lemons in new and fun ways. In December 2016 I wrote about making lemony alcoholic drinks, In March 2017 Carolyn wrote about lemon pie. Time to look at another lemon use – salted lemons.
Salted lemon, also called lemon pickle, is a condiment common in South Asian and North African cuisine, including Moroccan tagines and Cambodian ngam nguv, a chicken soup. Diced, quartered, halved, or whole, lemons are pickled in a brine of salt, lemon juice, and water. Generally spices are included.
Lemon – you can do this with only one lemon, or with many. Rinse off the lemons.
Salt – use canning, sea or kosher salt, not iodized.
Jars with lids – you can sterilize these, but no one in the rest of the world does so. Your choice.
Slice the lemons, making a criss-cross through the center, but not cutting all the way through. Just enough to open them up. Put lemon in jar and add salt. Plan on at least a 1/2 cup of salt for a quart jar. Press the lemons down as you go, packing them in tight. Pressing helps release the juice that helps preserve them.
Choose if you wish to add spices – or not. Any combination of dried herbs and spices will do – get creative! I experimented with coriander seed, cinnamon bark, bay leaf, peppercorn, cloves, cardamom pods and sumac. If you use fresh herbs, use a full cup of salt per quart jar, to ensure the brine is strong enough to kill botulism bacteria.
Shake the jar once a day for the first few days to help dissolve salt and get any air bubbles to the surface. The jar should be at least 3/4 full of juice by day three. If not, be sure to add liquid – either lemon juice or water.
Wait. Lemons are best allowed to pickle at room temperature for at least a month. Longer is fine.
Use. The pulp of the preserved lemon can be used in stews and sauces, but it is the peel (both zest and pith) that is most valued. The flavor is mildly tart but intensely lemony. Pieces of lemon may be washed before using to remove any surface salt, or blanched to remove more of the salt and bring out the natural mild sweetness.
The lemons may be sliced, chopped, or minced as needed for the texture of the dish. Slip some under the skin of a whole chicken for roasting, rub diced over a piece of fish prior to grilling, or coarsely chop and mix in a cold whole grain salad (a twist on taboli). The rind may be used with or without the pulp. But don’t throw away the pulp! The pickled pulp and liquid can be used in Bloody Marys and other beverages where lemon and salt are used.
Salt. Use non-iodized salt. This can be kosher salt, sea salt, or pickling salt. The iodized salt experiment resulted in harsh flavor and a slippery texture.
Label. Always label what you have! Include the date! Sharpies write on glass and are easily erased with some rubbing alcohol.
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, Month-by-Month Garden Guide for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $26).
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