Ever since I first saw the movie Casablanca, I’ve been fascinated by Morocco. There’s just something about that North African country that inspires my imagination. The colours, the textiles, the kasbahs, the desert, but most importantly, the food(!)
I vividly remember my first visit to the country. My sister, Batgirl and I had decided to catch the ferry from Spain to Tangiers. For some reason we were really nervous about our first venture to North Africa. So when we called home to Mum, we were careful not to mention our impending Moroccan adventure.
I’m not sure why we were so worried, because we absolutely loved our time exploring the medinas and souks of Marrakech and Fez. Not to mention the breathtaking bus trip over the Altas mountains to the desert border town of Ouarzazate.
It should go without saying, I was captivated by the food. From the wonderful variety of meat tajines (stews) flavoured with figs or dates, to the street food kebabs, to succulent stuffed eggplant, to the tangy lemon chicken, to thick lentil soup known as harira, to the sacred couscous with seven vegetables. I wanted to eat it all.
Unfortunately, I did eat it all. Including some irresistible salad which made me very sick and cut short our Moroccan voyage as we legged it back to Spain to ride out the food poisoning in a hotel room with Western bathrooms.
While I’m still yet to voyage back to the land of couscous in the flesh, I’ve been exploring her cuisine in my own little kitchen, with many wonderful books as a guide. One of the things I love the most is how exotic and unusual the flavour combinations of Morocco can taste to an Australian girl, while the ingredients themselves are so commonplace.
For example, if you take lemons and salt and let them hang out for a while, you end up with preserved lemon skin. This can be used anywhere you’d normally use lemon zest or lemon juice. But rather than the familiar citrus freshness, you will be amazed at how the preserved lemon adds a wonderfully exotic, yet familiar lemony perfume to food.
I hope you’ll have a go at adding a little Moroccan exoticism to your own cooking. Here are a few tips to get your imagination going.
How to Use Preserved Lemons
Once your lemons have been sitting for four weeks, they’re ready to use. But the crazy thing is that you’re going to dig the lemon out of the jar, remove the flesh and discard it. It’s the rind that you want. I find it best to rinse the rind well under the cold tap to remove the excess saltiness, because these little beauties sure are salty. Be warned: a little goes a very long way.
Where to Use Preserved Lemons
:: Anywhere you’d normally use lemon zest for a more intense, lemon kick.
:: Finely chopped and tossed in with your salad dressing for a fragrant surprise.
:: As a sauce for fish with olive oil and some fresh herbs.
:: Toss 1/2 perserved lemon, finely sliced in a chicken stew with tomatoes & olives and you’ll have yourself a wonderful chicken tajine.
:: In a hearty red lentil and perserved lemon soup.
:: Finely slice and toss through greens such as spinach, silverbeet, chard or kale that have been wilted in a pan with olive oil and garlic.
:: Finely mince and stir a little into some natural yoghurt for a wonderfully versatile savoury yoghurt sauce.
:: With olive oil and garlic to marinate large green olives.
:: Finely chopped with couscous.
:: In a potato salad.
Makes one jar.
While you can buy preserved lemons, I always prefer the more cost effective method of making my own. Other citrus such as limes and oranges can also be preserved using this method, but lemons are easily my favourite.
This is not the time to be squandering your precious Maldon or other fancy sea salt flakes. Any fine sea salt or kosher salt will do.
Once you open the jar, keep the lemons in the fridge so they last as long as possible. Most books will tell you they’ll keep for a year unopened, but I’ve had a few last twice as long as that when they got lost in the back of the cupboard.
3 – 4 thick skinned lemons
Extra lemon juice
6 – 8 tablespoons fine sea salt
1-2 bay leaves, optional
Sterilize a medium jar (with a good lid or seal) by popping in the dishwasher on the hottest cycle, or using your favourite sterilization method.
Place the thick-skinned lemons in a strainer and pour boiling water over the lemons to get rid of any dirt or bugs. Drain.
Chop a lemon into quarters, lengthwise.
Place a tablespoon salt in the bottom of the jar and pack in the lemon quarters, squashing them in to release as much juice as possible. Scatter with another tablespoon salt.
Repeat with the other 2 – 3 lemons, until the jar is full. If using the bay leaves, poke them in along the sides of the jar while layering.
Finish with a final tablespoon or two of salt. Cover with lemon juice.
Seal jar and store at room temperature for four weeks.
Jules Clancy is the creator of the Stonesoup Virtual Cookery School. She is committed to only cooking simple recipes with five ingredients or less for the rest of her life and blogs over at Stonesoup.