tomato salad with shallots and preserved lemon

It begins: a new flare-up of Acute Onset Ingredient Obsession (AOIO), this time brought on by preserved lemons.

Though often associated with Moroccan cuisine, preserved lemons can be used to add a salty citrus bite to just about anything — or, in my case, everything. I started these lemons on January 15th (according to what my past self scrawled on the lid of the jar, since my life is a dull indie adaptation of ‘Memento‘) and, since it takes about a month for the magic to happen, that puts us in preserved lemon primetime.

It’s pretty easy to preserve lemons. All you need to do is buy one or two 1 lb. bags of sea salt, tell the cashier at the supermarket that you’re using them to clean your bathtub (in case the cops end up questioning him about your purchases down the line — remember, criminal masterminds always think ahead!), and then completely strip the lower branches of JM’s lemon tree, wounding yourself in the process and continuing to find leaves in your hair the next day. I should add, by the way, that these particular lemons are so mild and lovely that I can peel and eat them like clementines. That probably means that they are mutant GMO lemons, but I have completely lost count of the carcinogens I encounter on a daily basis. Los Angeles is like a carcinogen hoedown.

But back to preservation: you’ll need a large-ish jar and something like 10-12 lemons. Wash both the jar and the lemons thoroughly, and then juice half the lemons and set the juice aside. Now is the fun part. Take one of the remaining lemons and imagine it as an aspirational tulip. Keeping the stem part intact, slice the lemon lengthwise, twice, until it splits into four even sections still connected at the bottom. Got it? Good. I stink at explaining things like this, so grazie mille to Fork It Over for having the foresight to include a gankable picture (as well as a different recipe which is probably explained more clearly, but features far fewer links to Christopher Nolan films).

Now imagine you’re making the worst tiramisu in history. In the jar, you’re going to do a little layering exercise: salt, lemon, lemon juice, salt, lemon, lemon juice, salt, etc., until all the lemons are in the jar. Make sure you’ve added enough lemon juice to cover the topmost lemons. Really pack ’em in there, too! The more you squash the lemons down, the more their own juice will spill out into the glorious sour brine. Close the lid of the jar tightly, and leave it in a warm place, out of direct light, for at least three weeks, turning it gently every few days to make sure the juices mix evenly.

You can keep preserved lemons in the fridge, like me, or you can tempt the fates and just leave them out on the counter. And by “tempt the fates” I mean tempt any passersby who have had the good fortune to taste them; now that they’re ready, it’s really all I can do not to just eat them straight out of the jar like that Indian lime pickle my mom used to keep on hand. It’s also all I can do to not add them to just about everything I have been and will be cooking this week, so I’ve given up. Last night, when I got home, I chopped them finely, along with some shallots, and mixed them into a cherry tomato salad. Drizzle a little balsamic and oil on top, throw in some pepper (the lemons add enough salt for my taste, but the salt monsters out there may require more), and then make a nice little snack plate with some pears (also drizzled with balsamic) and Beemster (also topped with freshly ground pepper). At this point, it would behoove JM to make some greyhounds and put on a Leonard Cohen record, but who’s making demands? Not me.

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