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Preserved lemons keep popping up in conversation, both face to face and in e-mails, so it seems like a good time to revisit the topic.

Most people are looking for suggestions about how to use them, though some also want to know how to make them.

I recently made 12 quarts of preserved lemons at the request of a friend who had a big crop of Meyer lemons in March. Although not traditionally a spring crop, many local trees have had abundant late-winter harvests that have stretched into spring. I've included my recipe for preserved lemons in case you are lucky enough to have a cache on hand. Once you've preserved a lemon, it will keep for a year or longer.

Preserved lemons are a traditional North African ingredient, common in Moroccan cuisine, for example, and seen through much of the Middle East as well. Typically, the entire lemon is preserved in salt and lemon juice and then just the peel is used in recipes, contributing a tangy but subtle quality. I've gotten into the habit of using the entire lemon, peel and flesh, because I have always had a passion for both the flavor and the texture. But I also respect the traditional use and those who have, over the years, pointed out my non-traditional methods. These days, I use both my own recipes and traditional ones, depending on what I feel like preparing.

But you needn't follow a recipe to enjoy preserved lemons. Soups of spring greens, fresh peas, broccoli, asparagus or leeks welcome minced preserved lemons scattered on top. Roasted chicken is wonderful with a wedge or two alongside, and slow-cooked meats, especially short ribs and braised pork belly, are dazzling with a sprinkling of minced preserved lemon peel. Feel free to experiment and don't worry about getting fancy; preserved lemons are a rustic ingredient, with a lot of sass and spark.

Gremolata in its simplest most traditional form is a mix of grated lemon zest, minced garlic and minced parsley. It is served sprinkled over osso buco and similar meat stews. This version uses preserved lemon instead of fresh lemon zest, which adds several layers of flavor. It is delicious sprinkled over soups, stews, grilled poultry, fish and meats and rice dishes.

Preserved Lemon Gremolata

Makes ? cup

—about 2 cups, loosely packed, Italian parsley leaves and small stems

5 or 6preserved lemon wedges, peel only, minced

4 to 5garlic cloves, crushed and minced

Use a sharp chef's knife to mince the parsley and transfer it to a medium bowl. Add the minced lemon peel and minced garlic, toss and transfer to a small serving bowl or glass jar. Use within a day or two.

Variation: Add ? to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes.

Tapenade is a relish-like condiment with olives, anchovies and garlic as the primary ingredients. Preserved lemons and green olives makes this version bright and tangy, perfect in the spring. It is delicious with artichokes, roasted asparagus, sauteed greens and almost any grilled fish. It is also excellent on bruschetta slathered with sheep's milk ricotta, farmers cheese or creme fraiche.

Preserved Lemon Tapenade

Makes ? cup

3garlic cloves, crushed

3anchovy fillets, rinsed and drained

2 to 3preserved lemon wedges, peel and flesh separated

2teaspoons green peppercorns in brine, drained, or 1 tablespoon capers, drained

1cup (6 ounces) cracked green olives, pitted and minced

1tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley

—Kosher salt, if needed

—Black pepper in a mill

?cup extra virgin olive oil

Put the garlic cloves and anchovy fillets into a suribachi or large mortar and use a wooden pestle to grind them into a paste. Set aside the preserved lemon peel and add the flesh to the garlic paste; grind until the mixture is smooth. Add the green peppercorns, crush them and mix them into the paste; they should retain a bit of texture.

Minced the lemon peel.

Use a small rubber spatula to fold the minced lemon peel, minced olives and parsley into the garlic paste.

Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Taste and correct for salt, if necessary. Season with several turns of black pepper and stir in the olive oil. Transfer to a small serving bowl or glass jar and use with a day or two. Serve at room temperature.

I like this relish with roasted chicken or chick braised in sherry or Madeira; it is excellent, as well, tossed with steamed couscous. It is also a good condiment with almost any stew.

Preserved Lemon Relish

Makes ? cup

1shallot, minced

5 or 6preserved lemon wedges, seeded and minced

?cup minced fresh Italian parsley

1tablespoon fresh oregano, minced

2teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced

—Kosher salt, if needed

—Black pepper in a mill

3tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

?cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Put the shallot, preserved lemon, parsley, oregano and thyme into a medium bowl and toss together gently. Taste and correct for salt if necessary. Add several turns of black pepper and stir in the olive oil. Add the pine nuts and toss gently. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator, covered, for 2 to 3 days.

Variation: Use just ? cup parsley and replace the oregano and thyme with ? cup minced fresh cilantro leaves. Use chopped toasted walnuts in place of the pine nuts. For a mildly spicy version, remove the stem and seeds of a small serrano, mince it and fold it into the relish.

Dave Legros has had excellent flounder at the Sebastopol farmers market the past few weeks. I find it best prepared simply and served with a tangy preserved lemon condiment.

Sauteed Flounder with Preserved Lemon Butter

Makes 2 servings

2flounder fillets, preferably from the Sebastopol farmers market

?cup all-purpose flour

—Kosher salt

—Black pepper in a mill

2generous nubbins of butter

2tablespoons juice of preserved lemons (see Note below) or fresh lemon juice

—Preserved Lemon Gremolata, Tapenade or Relish (see recipes, this page)

Set the fish on a clean work surface. Season the flour with salt and pepper and sprinkle it all over the fish, rubbing gently with your fingers to coat the fish thoroughly.

Melt one nubbin of butter in a saut?pan big enough to hold both fillets set over high heat. When the butter is melted, add the fillets and saut?for 2 minutes. Turn the fillets, add half the remaining butter and half the juice and swirl the pan to distribute it evenly. Cook for 3 minutes and transfer the fillets to warm plates. Return the pan to the heat, add the remaining butter and remaining juice and swirl the pan until the butter just melts. Pour the lemon butter over the fish, top with the condiment of your choosing and serve immediately.

Of all recipes published in Seasonal Pantry, this is by far the most requested; I have e-mailed it for more than 200 readers who wished they had clipped it the first time it ran. Brining lemons for several days before preserving softens their skin, leeches out some of its pectin, and results in a slightly milder preserved lemon. You may leave out this step if you like.

Michele's Preserved Lemons

Makes 1 quart

12 to 16lemons

1cup kosher salt

3tablespoons sugar

Wash 8 to 12 (depending on size; you'll need enough lemons wedges to fill a quart jar) of the lemons thoroughly and place them in a large crock or glass bowl. (Set the other lemons aside to make juice to cover the preserved lemons.) Dissolve a tablespoon of salt in a quart of water and pour it over the lemons. If it does not cover the lemons, mix more brine (use the same ratio of salt to water) and pour it over until it covers them. Cover and set aside for 1 day. (You can make the preserved lemons at this point, or you can cover them with new brine daily for up to 7 days.)

Rinse and dry the brined lemons. Cut each lemon into 6 to 8 lengthwise wedges. Place them in a large bowl and toss with ? cup of the remaining salt and the sugar. Toss thoroughly and pack into a sterilized quart glass jar. Juice the reserved lemons and pour the juice over the sliced lemons. If it does not cover them completely, add fresh water until the lemons are completely covered. Cover the jar with heavy duty plastic wrap or parchment and then seal with its lid.

Set the jar of lemons in a cool dark cupboard for a week, giving it a good shaking once or twice a day. At the end of a week, move the jar to the refrigerator and use the preserved lemons within a year or so.

<i>Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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