Preseved Lemons

A Meyer lemon

I love the Moroccan dish called tagine. This is a stew that is traditionally cooked in a conical shaped vessel also called a tagine, thus the name of the dishes cooked in this fashion. The ingredient that transforms these stews for me is preserved lemons. They can be purchased in speciality food markets, but if you plan in advance, they are easy to make and more tasty if homemade. Meyer lemons are the best choice because they are sweeter and less acidic, so when I saw some at Weaver’s Way Co-op in Chestnut Hill this week, I grabbed them. The one cookbook my husband brought to our marriage was Paula Wolfert’s Coucous and Other Good Food in Morocco (1973, and out-of-print). Her chicken with preserved lemons is perfect for when you want to make chicken dish but need something a little different — and delicious.

Preserved lemons can be just the flavoring agent for adding to butter and herbs for a quick sauce for seafood, a viniagrette, mixing into vegetables, couscous, or even into hummus to punch up the flavor. Keep in mind that a little does go a long way and many recipes only call for a quarter of a lemon.

Please don’t use not having Meyer lemons as an excuse not to make this recipe. Regular lemons work well; just make sure they are organic and unwaxed. The resulting pickle is such a lovely way to make your food taste better. If you do not have 30 days, all is not lost.  Mark Bittman, writing for the New York Times in 2010, gives a three hour pickle recipe that approximates the flavor you are going for.

A regular lemon preparing for it briny bath

PRESERVED LEMONS

Ingredients
Organic lemons
Course sea salt

  1. Prepare a jar with a tight fitting lid large enough to hold the number of lemons you would like to preserve.  If you use a pint jar it will hold  2 lemons, and a quart jar will accomodate 8 to 10 lemons. Boil the jar and it’s lid in submerged water for 15 minutes to sterilize.
  2. Scrub each lemon with a vegetable brush, as you will be eating the peel. Slice off the thickened stem and tip ends of each lemon.  Starting at one end, cut the lemon into quarters leaving the pieces attached by about 1-inch at the bottom. You will have an “X” shape.
  3. Press as much salt as you can inside each lemon; about 1 tablespoon per fruit. Place 1/2-inch salt at the bottom of your sterilized jar and add the lemons, pressing down to release the juices. You will most likely need to squeeze the juice of a couple more lemons in order to cover the lemons completely.  Leave 3/4-inch from the top of the jar.
  4. Add 2 more tablespoons of salt to the top and seal the jar.
  5.  Cover and let stand at room temperature.  For the next 3 days, turn the jar upside down and shake to redistribute the juice and salt around the lemons.
  6. After 30 days, the lemon peel will have softened and they are ready to use. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to six months.
  7. To use, remove a lemon with a clean fork and rinse to remove excess salt. Split open and scrape out the flesh. Thinly slice or the dice the peel and use as you wish.

Optional flavorings

I tend to keep my preserved lemons plain so that I can use them many different ways, but if you want you can add chilies, a cinnamon stick, bay leaves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cloves and cardamom pods.

Corn Pudding

I have found that even guests with the most sophisticated palate, love this corn pudding. During the summer I freeze just enough corn for several puddings, so I reserve this dish for very special occasions. It is simple to make, with just a few ingredients, but it satisfies every time. I realize that most of us don’t have home preserved corn in the freezer, but do use a good quality frozen corn for this dish.

This recipe is from the Mennonite Community Cookbook, which is out of print.

CORN PUDDING

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups corn
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter in a medium sauce pan and add the flour.  Cook this mixture for several minutes until foamy.  Add the milk gradually and then the corn, salt, pepper, and sugar. Bring to a simmer.  Remove from the heat and add the eggs; pour into a greased baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until the corn it puffed up and slightly firmed up.
This recipe was developed for home preserved corn.  If you would like to add an additional quick step for more creaminess, place half the corn in a food processor or blender and puree.

The Perfect Winter Comfort Food: Beef Burgundy

Beef Burgundy is one of my favorite comfort foods for winter. It is a dish that takes time and various techniques to bring the flavor home, so make it some weekend that you want to nurse along a fancy beef stew that your diners will sop up every last delicious drop.

My recipe is a combination of a David Rosengarten’s Boeuf a la Bourguignon with Heart Shaped Croutons, posted on the Food Network’s website in 1997.  I loved his now defunct show called Taste and, while his recipes from that show are no longer available, I was able save the ones that I thought I was most likely to use. The marinade is Rosengarten’s main contribution to my recipe, along with the addition of allspice berries and whole cloves.

My other two reliable recipe sources are anything from Cook’s Illustrated and the food blog, Simply Recipes. Cook’s Illustrated recipes aren’t available unless you are a subscriber, so I am not able to link to their version. I relied heavily on their recipe for the instructions and the method for cooking the garnishes. I love Simply Recipes photographs, so that you know what to look for as you go along.

ALONNA’S BEEF BURGUNDY
Marinade:
  • 3 cups of red of dry red wine, preferably a Pinot Noir
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/4 good brandy
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 10 peppercorns
  • .5 ounces of dried porini mushrooms, rinsed
  • 12 parsley stems
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1 bay leaf
For the rest of the stew:
  • 4 pounds of beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 6 ounces of salt pork, cut into 1/4 by 1/4 by 1-inch pieces
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/3 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
For the garnish:
  • 7 ounces pearl onions
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 ounces of button mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl combine all the marinade ingredients and the beef.  Cover, and chill overnight.  Remove the beef, reserving the marinade and vegetables. Pat the beef dry thoroughly and salt and pepper.
  2. Boil 3 cups of water in a medium saucepan.  Add the salt pork and boil for 2 minutes.  Drain well.
  3. Adjust oven rack to the lower-middle postion in the oven and heat to 300 degrees.
  4. Place the marinade ingredients except for the beef and the tomato paste in an eight quart Dutch oven.
  5. In a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, saute the salt pork until lightly browned and crisp.  This should take about 12 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the dutch oven.  Pour off all but two teaspoons of fat and reserve the rest.  Increase heat to high and add beef in a single layer without crowding too much. Brown to a deep rich color, about 7 minutes and transfer to the Dutch oven.  It may take you two or three batches.  Pour 1/2 cup of water into the skillet and scrape up all the brown bits; pour into liquid into Dutch oven.
  6. Return skillet to high heat and add two more teaspoons of reserved pork fat. Add another layer of beef and brown as before. Use another 1/2 cup of water to transfer any delicious brown bits into the Dutch oven.
  7. In the emptied skillet over medium heat, add 4 tablespoons butter.  When foaming subsides, whisk in flour until evenly moistened and pasty.  Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture has a toasty aroma and looks like light-colored peanut butter. This should take about 5 minutes.  Gradually whisk in chicken stock and 1 cup of water.  Turn heat up to medium-high and bring to simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened. Pour mixture into Dutch oven and salt and pepper to taste.  Add water if beef is not covered except for small corners peaking above the liquid. Stir to combine and increase heat to high. Bring contents to a boil; cover and place in oven.  Cook until the meat is tender for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
  8. With a slotted spoon, remove beef from the pot. Remove vegetables and place into a sieve.  Press out liquid into Dutch oven and discard the vegetable herb mixture.
  9. Bring the liquid in the Dutch oven to a boil over medium-high heat.  Simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until sauce is reduced to 3 cups and is thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, 15 to 25 minutes.  Taste frequently near during the last half of this window of time to ensure that your sauce isn’t getting too salty.  If it is, stop the reduction and go to the next step.
  10.  While the sauce is reducing, bring pearl onions, butter, sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water to boil in medium skillet over high heat; cover and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, shaking pan occasionally, until onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to high, and simmer until all liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid released by mushrooms evaporates and vegetables are browned and glazed, about 5 minutes. Transfer vegetables to large plate and set aside. Add 1/4 cup water to skillet and stir with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits. When pan bottom and sides are clean, add liquid to reducing sauce.
  11. When the sauce has reduced to three cups, reduce heat to medium-low and add the beef, mushrooms and onions and any juices accumulated.  Cover and cook until just heated through, about 5 to 8 minutes.  Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper and serve, with a dusting of chopped parsley.
Serve with potatoes, rice, polenta, or buttered noodles.  If you are being virtuous, millet or whole wheat couscous would also be lovely.  Don’t forget crusty bread too.

Best Dinner Parties for Six

My best dinner parties have been with six people.  There is just enough personalities to bounce off each other, but not so many people you don’t get to really visit with everyone. Just after the holidays we got together with some friends at their house and had a winter celebration.  On the menu:

  • Assorted light appetizers
  • Roasted pear and arugula salad with balsamic vinaigrette
  • Beef bourguignon
  • Corn pudding
  • Roasted vegetables with fennel pollen
  • Three cheeses
  • Chocolates for dessert

Thanks to the generosity of our friend, the wine!
The discussion over appetizers
My friend Linda’s delicious salad awaits
One of my favorite dead of the winter meals
An aged cheddar, my favorite goat cheese and a Mahon from Spain
Guess which cheese was the favorite:  Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove
Port and chocolates:  I am one happy girl!