Lemons and Salt, a Love Story
Preserved Lemons, as beautiful and awe-inspiring on the palate as they are in the jar, are one of the quintessential tastes of Moroccan and Tunisian cuisine. Preserved lemons are wonderful summer food, and bring summer to the coldest winter days. Lemons, warmed by the sun bring joy with their color and brightness. Fresh lemons are indeed fresh, sour, zesty, and the lemon rind, bitter and sweet.
Preserved lemons, because of the working of the salt, are still bright and lemony, but not so sour and their rind, not so bitter. They are mellow aromatic, addictive.
And a complex flavor addition to many dishes. Not so much is needed, you don’t have to over-do. A jar can serve many uses. Even the brine is flavorful aromatic addition to salad dressings, potato and grain salads.
(I love a thin slice of preserved lemon tucked into a cheese sandwich.)
The classic Tunisian street food, Lablabi (a fragrant dish of cooked chickpeas, left to simmer for hours on the cookstove), which adapts so well to the home kitchen, simply would not be complete without a sprinkling of finely diced preserved lemon. Chopped very fine in couscous or rice salads. Thin slices composed over a tagine of couscous, olives and carrots.
Our Michigan friends, Chefs Sarah Mays and Amos Arinda spent time in Tunisia with the Mahjoub family, learning the family recipes, before opening the popular Cafe Memmi, a Tunisian pop-up restaurant in Ann Arbor. Their very favorite preserved lemons are made by the Mahjoub family. One of Sarah’s favorite ways to use the lemons is to make a preserved lemon vinaigrette using about 2 tablespoons preserved lemon brine, 2 tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemons, 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and ½ cup olive oil. This dressing is great on lots of salads. Try roasted beets on a bed of salad greens, tossed with Sarah's preserved lemon vinaigrette, mixed with a little ground toasted caraway. Garnish with herbs, a bit of fresh lemon zest, and a sprinkling of sesame seed.
Or try the dressing, this time with a little freshly ground toasted coriander seed, on an assortment of fresh sliced garden cucumbers, with or without shaved red onion and a few chopped capers.
And don’t be afraid to use fresh garden herbs!
Try making a salad of Tunisian couscous, crispy chickpeas, and carrots, the preserved lemon vinaigrette, and tons of fresh mint, cilantro, and parsley.
Sarah and Amos also brined fried chicken in buttermilk and brine from the preserved lemons, which was always a hit at Cafe Memmi.
Farro, White Bean, and Preserved Lemon Salad from Serious Eats
“This recipe with white beans is probably my favorite farro salad yet. The creamy beans play a huge role in that, along with the sweet tender leeks and fresh parsley. But it's the chunks of salty, citrusy preserved lemon... that really takes this salad to the next level.” - Blake Royer, Serious Eats
- 1 cup farro
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 leek, split lengthwise and thinly sliced (white and pale green part only)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- one 15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups cooked and cooled cannellini beans)
- 2-3 tablespoons diced preserved lemon, or juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
- Salt and pepper
In a medium pot, cover farro with cold water, season with salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and return to its pot.
In the meantime, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet until shimmering. Add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking until leeks are completely tender.
Stir in beans, parsley, and preserved lemon, then transfer the entire mixture to the pot with the farro. Stir well to combine, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve warm, or room temperature. A great food to take on the go.