Friday, April 26, 2013

Preserved Lemons

Tara requested that I post this recipe for Preserved Lemons.  Even though there weren't any lemons in our box this week, there are plenty of lemon trees in the neighborhood and all over town, too.  Perhaps you or your neighbor has a tree laden with ripe fruit.  It's easy enough to squeeze and freeze the juice for later use, but this recipe requires only slightly more work and yields a beautiful and versatile product.

Preserved lemons, also called salt-cured lemons are frequently found in Moroccan cooking.  There are many wonderful recipes for chicken and lamb made with preserved lemons, olives, garlic, and spices.  But preserved lemons have many more uses.  Chef Ernie Miller, formerly of the Farmer's Kitchen, opened my eyes to the myriad uses of preserved lemons.  They're a tasty "secret" ingredient in tomato salsa, hummus, seviche, potato salad, tuna salad, and all manner of sauces and salad dressings.  More on that later.

The most important ingredient is time.  They get better and better the longer they age.  I like to put several jars in the back of my fridge and leave them for six months.  They keep for a very long time.  I've had some jars well over a year.

Below are two recipes for preserved lemons:  One is simply lemons, salt, and juice; the other, from Chef Miller, includes a few choice spices.

Simple Preserved Lemons

1 wide-mouth quart jar with non-reactive lid
6-10 lemons, enough to fill the jar snugly
1/2 C kosher salt
fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1.  Sterilize the quart jar by boiling it for 10 minutes.  Allow jar to cool enough to handle.

2.  Score lemons lengthwise in quarters, cutting through almost to the bottom, but leaving the bottom in tact so that the lemon can open up like a flower.

3.  Place 1 T salt in the bottom of the jar.

4.  Starting with the first lemon, pull open the quarters and place 1 T salt inside the lemon.  Place the lemon in the jar.  Repeat with the remaining lemons, pushing down on them gently until the jar is snugly packed with lemons.

5.  Pour in fresh-squeezed lemon juice leaving 1/2-inch headspace but making sure all the lemons are covered.  Add any remaining salt.

6.  Cover tightly and let sit on the counter for 1-2 weeks.  Then place the jar in the fridge and allow to age for 1 month or longer.

Chef Miller's Preserved Lemons:  Follow the recipe above, adding 1 t black peppercorns, 3 cinnamon sticks, and 2 bay leaves for flavoring.

Star anise and cloves are other flavors to consider.  Feel free to experiment.

One of my favorite recipes for preserved lemons is this very simple salad dressing:  1 t minced preserved lemons, 1 t juice from preserved lemons, 1 T white balsamic vinegar, and 2 T extra virgin olive oil.  Mix together until well-combined and toss with mixed greens.  Do not substitute dark balsamic vinegar for the white balsamic in this recipe.  If you don't have white balsamic vinegar, you can substitute cider vinegar.

This week's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest:  Spring onions, lettuce, carrots, fennel, beets, and collard greens;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Golden Nugget mandarins and avocados;

From South Central Farmers Cooperative:  Rainbow chard and blue kale;

From Sun Coast Farms:  Asparagus and broccoli;

From Silver Lake Farms:  Mint, chives, and cilantro

And from farmer Dave in Silver Lake:  French sorrel.



Friday, April 19, 2013

Strawberry Lavender Smoothie

Smoothies are a perennial favorite.  They can be made with just about any fruit or vegetable if you have a strong enough blender.  I like adding herbs and spices to my smoothies to add a little zing.

Today's recipe for Strawberry Lavender Smoothies is simple, delicious, and healthy, too.  I used English lavender from my garden, and I pulverized it in spice grinder.  If you don't have a spice grinder, you can do this with a mortar and pestle.

Most varieties of lavender are edible, but not all of them taste great.  Some varieties of lavender contain camphor which may give off flavors to your dish.  English lavender is the most popular culinary variety, but there are many others, too.

For 2 generous servings:

1 generous C washed, hulled and coarsely chopped strawberries
2/3 C plain yogurt
3/4 C milk
6 ice cubes
1/4 t finely pulverized English lavender
2 T honey or to taste (optional)

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smooth.

For a thicker smoothie, use more yogurt and less milk; for a thinner smoothie, more milk and less yogurt.

I prefer to use plain yogurt, but vanilla yogurt would work fine, too.  There's probably no need to add any sweetener if you use vanilla yogurt.

Today's bounty included:

From County Line Harvest:  Romaine and Bloomsdale spinach;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Carrots, strawberries, cilantro, dandelion greens, lacinato kale, beets, and cabbage;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Golden Nugget mandarins;

From Sun Coast Farms:  Asparagus and dried pinto beans;

From Silver Lake Farms:  Chives, sage, rosemary, sorrel, mint, and cilantro.



Friday, April 12, 2013

Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar

It's strawberry season in Southern California.  We're so lucky to have delicious local strawberries available for much of the year, but these are the first in our CSA box for 2013.  You may want to enjoy these berries completely unadulterated.  But if you'd like to dress them up just a little Strawberries with Balsamic Vinegar is a simply wonderful way to do it.

I must admit I was a skeptic about putting strong flavors such as vinegar and pepper on sweet little strawberries, so I was truly surprised at how inspired this combination of flavors turned out to be.  It's really not a surprise, though, when you think about it, since balsamic vinegar is made from grape juice reduced and aged to a thick and sweet syrup.  The pepper perks things up, but finely chopped fresh mint or basil can be equally perky substitutes if you're not fond of pepper.

Use the best, thickest, most syrup-y balsamic you have.  It makes a big difference in this recipe.  You only need 1 teaspoon per serving.  I like to use agave syrup in this recipe.  Granulated sugar may not dissolve well giving the dish a slightly gritty texture.  If you don't have (or don't like) agave syrup, use simple syrup instead.

It's easy to make simple syrup.  Just bring 1 C water and 1 C granulated sugar to a boil stirring occasionally until all the sugar is dissolved.  Then cool completely and store in a glass jar in the fridge.  It keeps for weeks.

For 2 servings:

1 C washed, hulled, and very coarsely chopped strawberries*
2 t aged balsamic vinegar
2 t agave syrup or simple syrup
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1.  Put the chopped strawberries in a bowl.

2.  Drizzle the balsamic and agave or simple syrup over the berries.

3.  Stir gently to coat.

4.  Let sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.

5.  Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper to taste and stir gently.

6.  Serve or refrigerate and serve within 3 hours.

This recipe can be easily doubled or triple.

*Very small strawberries can be left whole, and small strawberries can be halved.  Larger berries are best quartered or coarsely chopped.

Today's bounty included:

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Spinach, kale, wild arugula, red or green butter lettuce, dandelion greens, beets, strawberries, and mache;

From Country Line Harvest:  Baby fennel, white Tokyo turnips, red radishes, carrots, and spring onions;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia:  Navel oranges;

From Weiser Family Farm:  Parsnips and Russian banana baker potatoes;

From Silver Lake Farms: Chives, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, or French sorrel.