Why all citrus all week? In parts of the country where citrus grows naturally, the trees are practically groaning with fruit right now. Some trees topple over or lose branches from the weight of so much bounty. And the fruit has to be picked in order for the trees to set buds for next year's crop. Here in California charities will come and pick your fruit for you in exchange for the harvest. In stores all over the country this will be the last week or two that citrus will take center stage, before the early strawberries and other spring crops start to come in. Pretty soon the unusual varieties like Meyer lemons, Cara Cara oranges, and pomelos will be a distant memory.
There aren't many foods that match the versatility of citrus---we eat it raw, and use it as an ingredient in sweets, meats, fish, vegetables, drinks, and endless condiments. Every last part of the citrus fruit is valuable in the culinary world. Citrus can actually do the 'cooking' too---the acids in citrus will transform raw fish in ceviche. And because of the powerful essential oils in their rinds, citrus fruits are a huge source of flavorings As Ina Garten will tell you, a squeeze of lemon adds that special something to just about every dish imaginable. There are endless recipes I could have chosen for my week long celebration of citrus, but I decided to focus on ones that feature the glorious fruit as the main ingredient.
Preserved lemons are best known as a Middle Eastern and North African condiment, but the concept of preserving lemons in some sort of brine is an ancient technique in lots of cultures. Preserved lemons are lemons that are pickled in a brine of salt and their own juice. You can add a few spices if you want to, or leave them plain. The fruit ferments at room temperature for a month, and at the end you'll have an authentic ingredient for Moroccan stews, tagines, salad and couscous. But, really, you can use them in anywhere you'd normally use lemons. Basically the flavor is like lemon on steroids. Intensely 'lemony', and silky textured.
My method comes from Paula Wolfert
Spiced Moroccan Preserved Lemons
1 sterilized qt jar with a wide mouth
6 or 7 Meyer lemons (you can use regular lemons, choose small ones)
extra fresh lemon juice, if needed (I needed the juice from 2 extra lemons)
1 star anise
6 or 7 cardamom pods, cracked
3 pieces of cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp white peppercorns
3 bay leaves
- Slice a bit off the stem end of the lemons, and then slice them in half, lengthwise, leaving about 1/2 inch at the bottom, in other words do not slice all the way through to the end. Then slice it in quarters the same way, so the lemon is still whole at the bottom. (see above photos)
- Sprinkle salt on all the exposed lemon flesh.
- Coat the bottom of the jar with salt, and put the lemons in,push them down and squish them a bit to fit them in. Layer more salt and the spices in between the lemons.
- Fit as many lemons as you can into the jar, and then add more lemon juice to insure that all the lemons are covered in juice.
- Let the jar sit at room temperature for about a month, shaking the jar every day to redistribute the juices. A cupboard is a good place. Then refrigerate. The preserved lemons should keep for a year in the fridge.
- When you want to use one of the lemons, take it out with clean tongs and rinse the salt off. Scrape off the flesh, seeds and pith and then slice or dice the rinds.