In a surprising act of foresight and attention to detail, I ventured into the world of pickling and preserving this weekend, rendering me a sorceress reigning over boiling and bubbling mixtures. Preparing condiments that cure over time requires the ability to anticipate your tastes or desires for the future and act accordingly. This is not my forte. I don’t have backup of anything, except maybe light bulbs, but only because they come in packs of two. If I’m warm in the apartment I may not even bring a winter coat outside even if it’s winter. I find it hard sometimes to imagine the future. It’s high time to change that.
Turning my attention toward condiments and sauces is evidence of growth. It’s the little details that elevate something good to the estate of something fantastic. I now want to take the extra time to present things beautifully, to think of a detail that will set a dish apart from the every day, to create flavor combinations that show how much I care and to add beauty and refinement to my table. My mom, in a very astute analogy when I was a teenager, told me that my world view was such that if someone gave me a gift-wrapped box, I would look past all of the beauty and art of the packaging to see only the underlying cardboard box. She was concerned about my unwillingness to acknowledge the concerted efforts people put in to make things beautiful. Seeking truth and valuing the fundamentals should not come at the expense of beauty. In fact, the dressing is part of the truth. The details are important. Presentation and nuance are the beautiful things in life and they’re worth every effort. Even the ancient Egyptians understood this as evidenced by a visit to just about any history museum. It’s important to dote on the things and people you care about. And so, following that hanging preposition and beginning a sentence with a conjunction, I’m putting my effort toward creating condiments.
I’ve been avoiding making these lemons because they seem like the trendy thing to do. I don’t usually do trendy. If great cooks like Darya and talented chefs like Jody and Ken are doing it, I can no longer ignore a good thing. So much of what I love about their cooking is the refined and loving attention they pay to the details. Many Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes call for preserved lemons–lemons that have been pickled in salt and their own juices–since the dawn of time. It’s quite easy to do, though takes a few weeks before you can enjoy the spoils of your labor. But this is what makes it magical. You can put the preserved lemons in almost any dish to add flavor. I’m looking forward to a standard chicken tagine with olives, as Darya has done here, but I’m also excited about throwing them on fish, meat or in salads. The wonderful part about preserving these lemons was acknowledging that current trends i.e. buying the Jerusalem cookbook, brought to my attention an ancient ritual and each tablespoon of salt that I added to each lemon brought me one step closer to that and to adding a new level of beauty, detail and foresight to some future meal that I of course will share with you.
- 6 unwaxed lemons
- 6 tbsp coarse sea salt (kosher salt will work fine as well)
- juice of 6 lemons
Use a quart sized Ball jar to fit in all of the lemons. To sterilize it, fill it with boiling water, leave for a minute and then empty it. Do not wipe it dry so it will remain sterilized.
Wash the lemons and make sure your hands are clean as well. Cut a deep cross all the way from the top to almost the bottom of the base and from one side horizontally almost straight through. Stuff each lemon with one tablespoon of the salt and place in the jar. Push the lemons in tightly so they are squeezed together. Seal the jar and leave in a cool place for at least a week.
After this week or more, remove the lid with clean hands and press the lemons as hard as you can to squeeze out as much of the juice as you can. Add the juice of 6 lemons or enough to cover the lemons. Seal the jar again and leave in a cool place for at least 4 weeks, but the longer you leave them, the better the flavor will be.
Note: if you want to get fancy you can also add herbs, a chili pepper and olive oil with the lemon juice after the initial period, which is what I’m planning to do next week.
A finished batch is good for about a year.