Condiments

Tired Turkey Sandwich? by Anne

cranberry relish spoonRaw cranberry relish.  I didn't even know this was possible.  For me, raw cranberries have had the taboo quality of all those other shiny,  forbidden berries I was tempted to eat off the shrubbery when I was 5 years old.  Really?  You're allowed to eat these raw? When Rosalie's teacher was telling me about it the other day, though, she explained that her favorite cranberry sauce is raw cranberry relish, especially on her turkey sandwiches.  Well, this thought stuck with me, and by the time I was ready to give it a whirl today I had already forgotten the ingredients that she had mentioned.  

Fortunately, there are many intriguing-looking raw recipes out there.  I borrowed a simple one from simplyrecipes.com.  I almost didn't get a chance to taste it on a sandwich, because I kept eating it straight from a bowl with a spoon.  It's delicious. 

I'm anxious to try other versions, too, though.  From what I've seen, there are many exciting directions you can go with this raw relish.  I have seen recipes that include ingredients like horseradish, sour cream, dates, lemon, sweet onion...so many possibilities!  By the way, those ingredients were not all in the same recipe.  Don't worry.  Anyway, try this raw relish if you'd like a little zest in your leftover sandwiches this week.

Now I have the opposite problem than the usual one at this time: I need more turkey to work with!

Raw Cranberry Relish

Adapted from Elise Bauer's Simply Recipes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries, washed and picked through
  • 2 tart apples, such as Grannysmith, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 seedless orange, chopped into large chunks--with the skin still on
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, or to taste.

Directions:

  1. Place the cranberries, apples, and orange chunks into a food processor.  Pulse for as few times as possible--you want to avoid a mush--perhaps around 8 - 10 very brief times.  
  2. Pour the processed food into a bowl and pour over the sugar, stirring until incorporated. 
  3. Let the mixture stand for at least a half an hour to let the fruit macerate in the sugar.

Makes about 3 cups

cranberry relish I ingredients

Great Salt Debates by Anne

salts How does salt enhance flavor?  I have read different explanations and don’t know which one is the most accurate a reason—or if they all play a part.  One interesting fact I have read recently in a book called The Inquisitive Cook is that salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl), stimulates your taste receptors, since those nerves endings are stimulated by NaCl.  Therefore, salt actually makes your tongue more sensitive, rather than making the food itself actually taste more like itself.  Isn’t that fascinating?  Personally, I’m rooting for that explanation, because it blows my mind to think that salt isn’t necessarily enhancing flavor, it’s enhancing your tongue’s ability to taste the flavor. 

I also have heard that NaCl, when it comes in contact with food, upsets the food’s molecular structures, drawing moisture out of the molecules and releasing the flavors, making them more easily accessible to the tongue to taste.  Actually, this is also a cool idea to think about.  And it does tie in with salt’s known function of removing liquid from foods.

I also wonder about the intensity each salt crystal itself.  Some people say with great confidence that certain salts are more “mellow tasting” than others.  Others—with equal conviction—insist that all salt tastes intrinsically equally strong—it’s just that salt with bigger crystals doesn’t have as much surface in contact with the tongue, so there’s less of the salt to taste, even if it is the same amount.  Again, I have no idea who is correct.  Most of this “information” about salt flavors was collected from salt-lovers at parties, the grocery store, and restaurants.  I am not a chemist, but wouldn’t NaCl always be NaCl?  In other words, are there more and less potent versions of it?

We just bought a new container of coarse sea salt (the third one in the picture), which once again got me thinking about this last debate.   I already know that I love coarse sea salt on food, but it seemed like it would be fun to conduct another one-person tasting.  Today I just wanted to experience the difference in salt crystal size—I will probably move on to other comparisons.  Nowadays there’s a whole myriad of salts to choose from.  It seems like a tasting of that scope should involve more people.  Want to come to a salt tasting? 

Today was more of an idle desire to taste, back-to-back, the contrasting experiences of eating food with  small crystals and large. I made two small bowls of tabbouleh salad, one with fine sea salt, the other with coarse sea salt.  I stirred both in well.  Unsurprisingly, the small salt tasted uniformly salty and pleasant, while the big salt overall did taste “mellower,” but with the occasional crunchy thrill of a large salt crystal.  Those little crunches did not taste overwhelmingly salty, though, and the texture was so satisfying to my teeth, especially in a dish like tabbouleh salad, in which texture is one of its distinctive pleasures.   

Tonight’s conclusion?  Use coarse sea salt with your tabbouleh.  Also, please pass the salt.  There’s more to think (and taste) about.

Late-Night Tartar Sauce Non Sequiturs by Anne

tartar sauceLots of people do something in Seattle that I had never seen before in Texas or Oklahoma.  They order tartar sauce with their fries.  If you were born and raised in Washington, you might be thinking, "People everywhere don't put tartar sauce on their fries?" and if you have lived and traveled mostly around Southwest, you might be saying, "They do WHAT, now?"  Obviously regional cuisine exists in our big old melting pot.  But I think of fast food chains as being somewhat universal: Fries plus ketchup.  The occasional wild moment: mustard mixed with ketchup.  Ranch dressing.  Now that I think of it, have I ever seen a Seattleite opt for ranch dressing with fries? Anyway, it makes elegant sense that this area of the country would use tartar sauce (people just say "tartar" around here) as one of the most common condiments.  Seattle's a port, after all.  A local burger chain, Dick's, has their own tartar-type sauce that automatically goes onto all their "Dick's Special" and "Dick's Deluxe" burgers.  It's wild, man.  As in, wildly delicious.  They sell the stuff in tiny tubs as a dip for their fabulously greasy fries.

This morning I accidentally bought two jars of tartar sauce--both recipes from local fast food fish 'n' chips places around this area.  Rather than return one of the jars, I thought it would be fun to have a one-person tasting.  This is how I like to spend my Friday nights. 

The basic ingredient lists on these jars are similar, except that while one has dehydrated milk powder, the other one contains MSG and onions.  And then there's the enigmatic ingredient, "spices," that sets the two apart.  I approached the two sauces with an open mind and was astonished by their distinctly different qualities.  One -- the Skipper's brand, tasted almost like it contained horseradish, which would be a brilliant move, actually.  Was that part of "spices?"  This Skipper's tartar was smoother, also.  It made me imagine that you could eat that tartar with prime rib.  Mostly kidding.  Who in the heck would drop some cash on a nice prime rib and then enjoy it with fast-food tartar sauce? 

The Ivar's sauce was chunkier with relish (actually, they call it "cured cucumbers."  Really? You mean, pickles?), and it tasted heartier, somehow.  It was the one with the onions and the MSG.  It was definitely less sweet, too.   "Sugar" was far lower on the ingredient list.  This sauce belongs nowhere near a prime rib, but it would be right at home on a burger. 

I just now started thinking about the history of Tartar sauce, which led me down the Internet rabbit hole.  I just surfaced with a few tidbits--naturally, its origins are ancient, as far back as Rome.  Seafood was not the only thing that a sauce like this would top.  Many meats were dressed with sauces that included mayonnaise-type emulsions.   

If you feel like serving tartar sauce with a dish but wish to sound more fancy, you could also call it sauce rémoulade, a French sauce that is very similar.  Actually, I dare you to do that: Buy a jar of tartar sauce from the grocery store and serve your meal with "rémoulade." Ha! That would be hilarious.  In Denmark, they sell frites and remoulade at takeaway places.  Doesn't that sound so much more fabulous and worldly than fries and tartar? 

Well, I've left this blog post slightly more knowledgeable than when I started.  If you are still reading this (and hoping for me that I get some sleep rather than continuing to ramble on about condiments), I hope you also leave this post knowing something new, too.

I would never be writing this blog post if it weren't for NaBloWriMo.  Hm. Thank you...?

Your Leftovers Will Thank You by Anne

 romesco sauce finishedI spread "Toasted Hazelnut Romesco Sauce" on crostini with the Gambas al Ajillo, as I mentioned the other day.  Tonight we used some of the leftover sauce in a bizarre yet delicious combination of...should I tell you this?  Leftover linguine, roasted chicken, and a combo of frozen corn and canned creamed corn.  Well, that doesn't actually sound all that weird.  But I don't think I've ever had pasta mixed in with creamed corn before.  Somehow the romesco made it work as a bridge ingredient.  I was really getting into eating this sauce with the pasta and the creamy corn, along with a crunchy slice of bread.  Think about it.  There are chile peppers in romesco sauce, which taste great with corn in a very American (as in the southern part of the continent, not just the USA) way.   The pasta had an affinity with all ingredients of the sauce as well. 

Anyway, the point is, this romesco sauce does not have to be hoity-toity just because it is Catalan and cool.  Actually, it does an incredible job of making boring leftovers more robust and alive.  Yes, The New Spanish Table recommends pairing the sauce with hip ingredients like fennel sticks, endive leaves, or poached asparagus, but imagine this tangy, deep and smoky sauce on a baked potato or french fries! 

To keep proving this point I just went over to my empty-ish fridge to see what other things might taste good with the last of this sauce, and I stumbled on a package of bacon.  Oh, baby.  A BLT with romesco!?!?!?  I totally know what we are having for dinner tomorrow.

Toasted Hazelnut Romesco Sauce

From The New Spanish Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • 1 dried medium sized ancho chile, stemmed, seeded, and cut or torn into small pieces
  • 2/3 cups hazelnuts
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 ½ T toasted bread crumbs
  • 1 small plum tomato, chopped
  • 1 T sweet (not smoked) paprika, preferably Spanish
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne, or more to taste
  • 6 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T red wine vinegar, or more to taste
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea)

Directions:

  1. Pour 1/2 cup of boiling water over the pieces of chile in a heatproof boal.  Cover and steep for at least half an hour. 
  2. Meanwhile, toast and skin the hazelnuts:  Place the nuts on a cookie sheet in a 350˚ oven for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the skins look blistered.  Be careful not to let them burn.  Remove the cookie sheet and pour the hazelnuts into a clean dishtowel.  Wrap the towel around the them and let them sit for 15 minutes.  While dishtowel is still closed, squeeze and twist the towel to grind the hazelnuts' surfaces against each other to help scrape the skins off.  Open the towel and with your fingertips, pull off and scrape as much skin off as possible.  It's not necessary to remove all of the skins.
  3. In a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts until they are a semi-fine texture.  Add the peppers, 1/3 cup of the soaking liquid, garlic cloves, bread crumbs, tomato, paprika, and cayenne and process until mostly smooth, with a slight texture from the hazelnuts.  Scrape the sides of the food processor bowl.
  4. In a thin stream, slowly add all of the olive oil with the processor running. 
  5. Scrape sauce into a bowl, and stir in the vinegar.  Add salt to taste.
  6. Cover, and refrigerate for at least half an hour.  May be made ahead up to a week.  Before serving, check the sauce's flavor to see if more salt, vinegar, or cayenne should be added to finish.

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

Patience, Grasshopper by Anne

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I eat all my French fries on the way home from the burger place.  According to many people’s upbringings, this is not the best idea, especially for kids.  There are so many reasons to wait: maintaining good habits of eating at the table, keeping  the car clean, and developing maturity through delayed gratification.  I ponder this as I reach my hand into the hot, salty bag at the stoplight.  Because there are many reasons to eat fries now, as well.  Well, one reason.  They are hot and perfect now.  This precious moment is fleeting, not to be wasted on my maturity.

You know that fable about the ants and the grasshopper?  The busy ants work hard, preparing through the summer for the colder months to come, and the grasshopper plays all day, enjoying life.  The grasshopper does not heed the ants’ stern warnings, and he winds up croaking dead once the first snow hits.  No way are the ants giving that slacker any of their hard-earned food.  The Disney version actually depicts the ants as much friendlier folks, and they invite the grasshopper inside for food and shelter during the winter, as long as he’ll be their fiddler. 

With fries, the decision to be a grasshopper is simple.  My semi-impulsive personality jibes with the hot French fry.  But actually, I do work hard.  I do try to make efforts to be antly whenever possible.  After all, there are bigger concerns in the world where thinking ahead trumps carpe diem.  I’m thinking savings accounts.  I’m thinking insurance policies.  I’m thinking tomatoes.

At the moment there are five varieties of tomatoes growing in my backyard.  I forget about them for one day, and kablam!  More tomatoes have exploded with color than I would have predicted.   Languid, heavy and vibrant, they invite you to pick them and eat them immediately, still warm from the sun.   Sometimes we control ourselves enough (or engorge ourselves enough) to actually get a few into that colander which I optimistically bring outside for picking.  Then we can have fresh tomato salad, gazpacho, a myriad of sauces, or just some slices with dinner.   If it involves tomatoes, I’m happy. 

 “Sun” drying tomatoes is an example of being antly, yet lazy.  How cool is it to place supple, round tomatoes into a barely warm oven, and after hours of doing absolutely nothing, remove impossibly delicious dried tomatoes from that oven?  Suddenly you are able to bring sunshine with you, deep into December, without much effort at all.

Sun dried tomatoes’ versatility, as you probably know, is vast.  I add them to sauces, appetizers, sandwiches, and salads.  They’re great in a frittata, bread, and hash browns.  Heck, you could eat them three times a day, with all the meals.  I probably would, but unfortunately I have an unsurprising problem:  I have a hard time keeping enough of these sun-dried morsels to store at all.  Most go straight from the pan into my mouth. 

And here come those cold days.  Too bad I can’t play the fiddle.

"Sun" Dried Tomatoes

Generally when I make dried tomatoes I use nothing but tomatoes, because I want flexibility in how I use them later.  However, if you have recipe in mind for using these dried tomatoes, herbs and flavorings can come in handy.

These are directions for drying tomatoes in the oven, but today I am actually borrowing a neighbor’s dehydrator. It’s pretty great, and I may even get one, eventually.  But the oven is essentially as straightforward to use.

Ingredients:

  • Several pounds of ripe, firm, organic tomatoes.  People say that Roma tomatoes are the best for this, but I use all kinds, from Black Prince heirlooms to regular slicing tomatoes to Sungold cherry tomatoes.  Just choose the best tomatoes you can find.
  • Sea salt or kosher salt(optional)
  • Dried herbs, such as basil, thyme, or marjoram (optional)
  • Olive oil (optional)

Directions:

  1. Set your oven at 150˚ or the lowest setting possible. 
  2. Wash the tomatoes and prepare them for drying: If the tomatoes are small, like Roma, then split them in half lengthwise, notching out the core.  If using larger tomatoes, make several slices to approximate the thickness of half a Roma and remove the core from the slice that holds it.  If using cherry tomatoes (note that tomatoes shrink to about ¼ their original size, so the cherry varieties won’t yield much dried tomato), dip the cherry tomatoes in boiling water for a moment until their skins split, then quickly remove them. Don’t worry about their cores.
  3. Spread out the tomato halves, cut side up, (or slices) on metal cake racks or sheet pans.  Cake racks are better, because they allow better circulation and require less turning. 
  4. If desired, sprinkle salt, herbs, and/or oil over the tomatoes.  Remember that their flavor will condense considerably when they dry.
  5. The amount of time it takes to dry the tomatoes depends on the thickness of your cut and the heat of your oven.  Plan on warming them for 10 or even up to 20 hours.  The heat is very low (hey, not that much higher than a very hot day in Oklahoma!), so this is why this takes so long.
  6. After about 8 to 10 hours, remove the racks and turn the tomatoes over.  Rotate the racks to different levels to achieve balanced heat.
  7. Check the tomatoes again after 4 to 6 hours.  Leave them in if they need more time.
  8. You know that  the tomatoes are ready when they have the rubbery, leathery feel of fresh raisins.  They should not be crispy, nor should they be very sticky or resemble their original smoothness or size.  They will probably be about ¼ the size of the original slices.   You’d probably better go ahead and taste one or two (or five) to make sure.
  9. When they are finished, remove the racks from the oven and cool completely on the counter.  Store in an airtight container.  They will last for months.

Makes the same number of slices that you started with, minus the bites you took to “test” the texture.

Cherry Power Meets Pork Chops by Anne

 

porkchopscherrysalsaeditOnce I asked my mom how to clean the grout between tiles. She said, “I would apply a solution of bleach to the tiles and let it sit awhile.”

I asked, “What do you mean by ‘a solution of bleach,’ exactly?”

She paused and said, “Straight bleach.”

Like Mom, I don’t always opt for the subtle approach.  Naturally, this zeal affects my big-flavor decisions in the kitchen.   Now that it’s cherry season in Washington, I’m thrilled for some intense and sweet opportunities to experiment.  The possibilities range from desserty, to savory, to sitting on the front steps eating “a solution of cherries.” 

The full flavor of fresh cherries does not stand up to the heat of cooking—that’s more of a job for a dried cherry—so I chose a tart, pico de gallo-style salsa to complement a commanding and savory grilled meat.  This salsa is like the Hallelujah Chorus for cherries.  Joyous, unadulterated cherry power.

 

Grilled Pork Chops with Cherry Salsa

If the idea of cherry salsa doesn’t appeal, or if you cannot get good cherries, the marinade itself is still delicious with grilled pork.   If you’re cherryless but still in the mood for a fruit salsa, you could even substitute the cherries with pineapple, adding a couple tablespoons of minced cilantro.  With either salsa version, you could also add some fresh mint.  Myself, I was looking for a punch of sweet and tart, and the mint takes it off that course a bit.

  •  One recipe of Gorgeously Good Pork Marinade (below)
  • 1 lb boneless pork chops (add 6 or so ounces if bones are in)
  • One recipe of Fresh Cherry Salsa (below)
  1. Place the pork chops in a large ziplock bag and pour in the marinade.  Rub the marinade into both sides of each piece of meat, then seal the bag, making sure as much of the meat as possible is in contact with marinade.  If you don’t have much time to marinate, leave the bag on the counter for 30 minutes.  If you have time, marinate in the refrigerator for a minimum of hour--up to overnight.
  2. Preheat grill to medium-high.  If you are cooking with a pan on the stovetop or with a George Foreman-type grill, a higher heat may be necessary.
  3. Remove pork from the marinade and loosely shake off the extra marinade.  Cook pork about 4 minutes on each side, depending on thickness of meat. 
  4. Serve pork on plates with cherry salsa nestled on the side. 

 Serves 2-4

 

Gorgeously Good Pork Marinade

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 ½ T fresh sage, coarsely chopped
  • 2 large shallots, coarsely chopped (about ¼ cup)
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp salt

 Place all ingredients in a blender or food processer and blend until smooth. 

 

Fresh Cherry Salsa

  • 1½ cup diced fresh cherries
  • 3 T lime juice
  • ½ cup sweet onion, chopped finely
  • ¼ tsp grated ginger (too much of this will overwhelm the other flavors; if you don’t have fresh ginger, in a pinch you could use the same amount of powdered ginger.  It’s not the same, but it still provides the necessary flavor to help complement the pork).
  • ¼ tsp sugar (optional—if salsa is a bit too tart for your taste.  Add right before serving if you don’t want cherries to macerate and lose their juices)

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl, and refrigerate until ready to serve.  This salsa tastes best if made right before serving. 

 

 

 

 

Easy Mango Cubes by Anne

mangocubespleaseI was going to share with you the mango-cubing method I’ve been using for years.   I learned my trick watching a cooking show when I was a kid.  However, I noticed that Jaden at Steamy Kitchen has a method that I like more (along with a cool kiwi peeling technique--check it out!).  You have more control over the shapes and sizes you can create.  It’s also a bit tidier.  However, my old method is great for feeding mango to toddlers, because it’s fun to pluck the cubes from the skin.  I’ll share both methods with you.

Step 1, removing the seed, is the same for both methods: 

The seed inside a mango is large and flat, so the best way to get the most flesh from it is to slice along the flat side of the seed.  You can tell by looking from the top or bottom of the mango, because the shape is oval, revealing the orientation of the seed.  Hold the mango vertically on the cutting board, with the stem side at the top. Using the top as your guide, line your knife up parallel to the seed/oval,  and slide your knife  ½ of an inch away from the stem top, which will help you avoid the large seed.  Slice down.*  If you feel resistance from the seed, just cut at a gentle curve away from it until you are cutting into smooth flesh again.  You should have a nice, large piece of mango “half” from this process.  Repeat on the other side.   

In the end you have two large pieces of mango for slicing, cubing, or dicing, and a central seed with some extra fruit still attached.  With your knife you can carefully remove some of that extra fruit from the seed, or you can be the kind of person who licks the spoon and take care of the extras in a more immediate manner.

*If you accidentally slice in a way that is not along the flat side of the seed and need to start with a new slice, I recommend method A for your next steps. 

Mango Cubing Method A - á la Steamy Kitchen

picnik-collagemangonew2

  1. Slice mango from seed as described above.
  2. Place the tip of a large serving-type spoon at the top of the mango half, finding the edge between the mango and the skin.  Scoop in, cutting the fruit away from the skin. What you have left is a smooth, neat hemisphere of mango. 
  3. For most control, place your fruit flat-side down.
  4. Chop or slice in whatever shape you desire.

 

Method B - Fun for Kids

picnik-collagemango2

  1. Slice mango from seed as described above.
  2. Holding the mango half in your palm, gently slice parallel lines into the mango, taking care not to pierce the skin as you do so.
  3. Rotate the mango a quarter-turn in your palm and repeat step 2, forming a grid pattern.
  4. Invert the mango half so that the skin is concave and the cubes pop out. Depending on the ripeness of your fruit, the cubes might fall easily right off the skin, or you can gently slice them off with your knife. Small hands might also like to pluck them off.     

 

 

Orange Suprêmes by Anne

orangesupremetrioedit2

This wonderful name refers to the juiciest, sweetest part of the orange—the actual orange pulp.  When you remove the skin, membrane, and pith from the orange segments, you have beautiful , sweet , pretty segments that lack the bitterness that comes from the pith.  Orange suprêmes make lovely additions to fruit salads, drinks, dessert decorations, and my next recipe on this blog—Salmon en Papillote with Oranges and Mangos.  You can make suprêmes with any other segmented fruit, such as grapefruit or lemon.

To Make Orange Suprêmes:

picnik-collage1

  1. Cut the top and bottom ends off of the orange, deep enough to reveal the juicy orange pulp. 
  2. Using the orange’s flat bottom to steady it on the cutting board, cut away a strip of the orange’s skin along the curve of the fruit, deep enough so that the orange shows clearly underneath.  You want to save as much of the orange as possible while also cutting deep enough to remove the white pith from the sides.  Repeat this in strips until your fruit is free of all outside white pith.
  3. Hold the orange gently in your palm.  Find the edge of a segment, where the pulp meets the membrane, and slice along this so that the pulp is separated from the membrane. Do this on both sides of the segment so you are cutting a long v-shape to completely free the segment from its membrane sheath.  Do this carefully to avoid cutting yourself.  Continue this process until all you have left is a “skeleton” of the membranes and a bowl full of small, juicy orange crescents.  There should be no white parts or membrane on these crescents.
  4.  If your recipe also calls for orange juice, squeeze the skeleton to remove the remaining juice from the fruit.

P.S. I did not know that this method had a name (and a French one, at that!) for years.  The lovely and gracious Melissa told me the other day at Foodista's International Food Bloggers Conference. 

Supreming on Foodista

Lemon Balm, Two Ways by Anne

lemon-balm-2-waysreal

Important fact about lemon balm: It belongs to the mint family.  Important fact about mint: many varieties would take over the world if given the opportunity. 

 

Neither of these facts stopped me a few years ago when I blithely tucked a pert lemon balm plant into my garden bed.  I sorta knew, and I sorta glossed it over in my head (The glossing continued when I later planted spearmint into the ground as well.  Use pots! Pots!). 

 

Yesterday I made more room for my new plants and tried to stop mint world domination.  During this act of heroism I needed to remove a gargantuan lemon balm plant—it was the mother of all the runners that had made their way around the yard.  Transplanting a huge chunk to a pot, I saw that I had hardly made a dent in the colossus.  I just gawked at it for awhile, reflecting.

 

Lemon balm, like mint, tastes lovely in spite of its aggressive tendencies.  It tastes like lemons with a hint of mint.   Like the other varieties of mint it also has digestive properties, so it makes a nice herbal tea or a refreshing addition to lemonade.  But this huge plant would have made way more tea than I was in the mood for drinking.   I needed a recipe that used the stuff in bulk.  Like pesto.  Along the way, I also made guacamole.

 

Lemon Balm Pesto

 

Note: In this recipe, I chopped ingredients finely by hand rather than using a mortar or food processor. I wanted to taste and see the distinct parts of the pesto. I was aiming for a pesto to top roasted fish, but I think this would be lovely on pasta with pecorino romano and generous amounts of pepper.

 

¼ t kosher salt

2 cloves minced garlic

½ t lemon zest

2 cups lightly packed lemon balm leaves, rinsed and dried.

¾ C finely chopped walnuts

1 T minced chives

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

 

*I did the mincing and chopping after steps 1 & 2

1. In a bowl, mash the minced garlic into the salt with the back of a spoon.  Mash in the lemon zest.

2. With the lemon balm, first make a chiffonade -- stacking many leaves, rolling tightly, then slicing slender strips. 

3. After you finish this, add the chiffonade and the garlic mixture to a cutting board and mince the elements together, until particles are well-blended and the size of fine confetti. 

4. Sprinkle chopped walnuts over the mixture, and lightly chop them in. 

5. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the minced chives.  I don’t chop these in because I like the small circles of minced chives, and the chives can retain more zing in distinct pieces.

6. Pour olive oil over mixture, and stir in. 

7. Season to taste—adding more salt or olive oil, if desired.

 

Lemon Balm Guacamole

This is what I would call a recipe tangent.  My husband Michael joked that I should make lemon balm guacamole, because we had seen a cooking show in which the guy was making different versions of guacamole which sounded gross to Michael.   Though it was a joke, it sounded good to me.

 

3 T of the pesto mix at the end of step 3 (before the walnuts & chives were added),

1 mashed avocado

1 t lemon juice

1 T minced chives

 

Stir all ingredients together in a bowl and serve immediately, or place avocado seed back in bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly touching the surface of the guacamole.  Refrigerate and serve as soon as possible.

 

This is great with tortilla chips, though I’d also like to try it with taro root chips or on a sandwich. 

Preserved Lemons by Anne

 

lemonspreservedingredientsPreserved lemons tumbled into my life and palate a couple of years ago when my friend Laura and I went to Tilth Restaurant for the first time.  During that meal, my head exploded.  Yes, it was a mess, but having your mind blown like that is worth it.  My dinner was so good that I just wanted to climb inside of it.

Many factors made this meal amazing.  So I’ll tell you about my favorite: my gnocchi dish contained, yes, preserved lemons.  This was a plate of perfect, seared gnocchi with fried capers, parmigiano, lacinato kale, and the lemons.   The little gnocchi themselves were a revelation, somehow light in their richness.  All the elements joined to create zesty-savory pleasure.  But the tiny minced bits of preserved lemons lit the gnocchi up like holiday twinkle lights.  Without the lemons, I think the dish would have been great.  But with them?  It was transformed into change-your-life good.  For months, my mind kept returning to those lemons.   And I kept meaning to make them , though my plans were derailed by my birthing a child and related subsequent new-mother duties.

I learned in the meantime that preserved lemons originated from Middle Eastern cuisine, notably found in Moroccan tagines and stews.  The word is out, though, and many restaurants around here zing their dishes with preserved lemons. They are as versatile as lemons themselves, but they can deliver small bursts of intense lemon flavor, kind of like lemon zest does, but the flavor is fuller, more complex, and less tart.  Also, since the bitterness of the rind and pith have been pickled out by the brine, preserved lemons allow more freedom with the size and shape of the magic you’re going to weave, from a teeny mince to long slices.  Not to mention that a jar of preserved lemons—which are technically pickled, by the way—will keep in the fridge for a year, always on hand and available.  Something that a sleep deprived new mom like me could clearly use.

So after much wishing and longing and birthing, I wrote a New Years’ resolution to finally get down to business with some lemons and some salt.  Oh, why did I wait so long? It was so simple and satisfying to prepare.    Sure, the idea of waiting a minimum of three weeks—preferably longer—for the lemons to cure is daunting, but if you cut out the hemming and hawing, the hands-on portion of this recipe totals 10-15 minutes.

I learned what to do with these lemons thanks to the waiter at Tilth, my friend Kim, Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters, and simplyrecipes.com.  I consulted with all four, let the info cure in my brain for a minimum of three weeks (but more like 2 years), then approached the task as if I knew what I was doing.  Here’s what I did:

Preserved Lemons 

  • 1 large jar - such as 1 or 2 quart size
  • 8 – 12 organic lemons – (I hear that milder, sweeter Meyer lemons are good for this recipe, but not necessary.  I did not use Meyers).
  • Good kosher salt, preferably preservative-free.  You’ll need at least 2 or 3 cups.
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice—have about 4 or 5 (or more) lemons’ worth on hand, just in case.

Directions 

  1. Pour salt into the bottom of the jar, about an inch high.
  2. Wash lemons well, scrubbing the skin.  Cut off the top tip of the lemon to remove the stem.  Cut each lemon lengthwise twice, about ¾ of the way through, creating quartered lemons that are attached at the bottom end, sort of like a lemon tulip.
  3. Holding each lemon in your hand over the jar, stuff it with kosher salt, squishing it into the pulp so that extra salt and any juice cascades into the jar.
  4. Squish the lemons into the jar as tightly and impolitely as possible. Some juice should come out of the lemons to create a brine the lemons will soak in. Don’t worry if it doesn’t cover the lemons; this is why you have extra lemon juice, and this is why you are squishing so hard. The less space between lemons, the less extra juice you will need.  Between layers of lemons, add layers of salt.  No need to skimp on that salt.
  5. Once you have as many lemons as humanly possible in the jar, toss in a last layer of salt (why not?), then fill the jar the rest of the way with lemon juice.  Close the lid tightly, and let lemons sit at room temperature for a few days.
  6. After these days pass, continue to cure the lemons in the refrigerator for a minimum of 3 weeks.    As they continue to sit in the brine, they will improve in flavor.  Turn the jar upside down every once in awhile, when you think of it.  Make sure that lid’s on tight so it can sit upside down in the fridge without “pickling” your leftover pizza one shelf below.
  7. To use a lemon: remove one from the jar and rinse thoroughly.  Remove seeds.  Pulp may be used but it is the rind that you’re really going for. In that gnocchi dish at Tilth Restaurant, the rind was cut in a small dice without much of the pulp.