Tag Archives: locavore; seasonal cooking; sustainable food; dee Hobsbawn-Smith; latkes; shoestring cooking; prairie food;

Preserved lemons and ageless aunties

Grainews

March 2020. I’m standing in my auntie’s orchard on a mild afternoon, the temperature about 18 C. In Canada, it’s deep winter, but here in California, the citrus trees have bloomed, and the fruit is ripe.

It’s a tough gig, being a grower on the Canadian prairies. We make jokes about the harsh weather – “But it’s a dry cold!” – but in reality some of us are pretty chuffed that we manage to grow anything at all.

Of course, we can’t grow everything. If I had my druthers, my little piece of prairie would be blessed with a kinder, gentler, more Mediterranean climate. I’d grow grapes, sweet cherries, olives, dates and figs, eggplant, all kinds of citrus. Lemons, grapefruit, limes and oranges fresh from the tree are an intoxicating thing. Just as intoxicating is the aroma of their blossoms before the tree produces fruit. O my.

Dozens of songs have been written about the lemon, from “Blind Lemon Blues” by Lead Belly to Prince’s “Lemon Crush”. In literature, too, lemons lead the citrus firmament – D.H. Lawrence waxed rhapsodic about lemons like innumerable stars in his 1921 travel book, Sea and Sardinia. But nothing but the doing of it captures the total coolness of strolling outside and twisting a fresh lemon free from the tree. As I said, the Mediterranean.

Citrus is an undeniably Arabic influence. Groves of bitter, or Seville, oranges, and other citrus were planted by Arabs carrying Islam into Europe. Flavours bequeathed by the Arabs to the cuisines of the Mediterranean include saffron, sweet-sour agrodolce sauce, brilliant on grilled fish, and preserved lemons. This is to fresh lemons as powdered and crystallized ginger is to a fresh hand of ginger – recognizably the same flavour, but not interchangeable. Fresh lemons are a brightener of flavours without equal – almost always, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice elevates a dish. But preserved lemons are transformed into condiment, losing their acidic rasp to the mellowing influence of salt.

So here it is – how to preserve lemons, then what to do with them. First we eat, then a glass of wine as we discuss the merits of moving to the Mediterranean.

  • dee’s note: I flew home safely. A week later, planes were grounded, airports closed, and the pandemic closed in.

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are a classic Mediterranean condiment. They are wondrous added to prawns, grilled fish, stews or tagines, roasted potatoes, bowls of lentils or chickpeas, grain salad, vinaigrette. Makes 1 pint

6 lemons

2 Tbsp. kosher or pickling salt

4 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick, broken

1 tsp. coriander seeds

¼ c. melted honey (optional)

Quarter washed lemons ¾ of the way down the fruit, leaving the quarters attached at the stem end. Stuff each with 1 tsp. salt. Pack into jar, peel side up, squishing well with a spoon to get the juices flowing. Sprinkle each layer with coriander seed, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves. Add honey, and if needed, extra lemon juice to cover. Cover and age in the fridge for a month before using.

Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons

Called a tagine in Morocco, a stew is a stew by any other name. You can swap the chicken for large cubes of lamb shoulder or cross-cut shanks; just extend the cooking time. For added complexity, add a pinch of saffron. Serves 6-10

6 chicken thighs and drums, bone in

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 head garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. chopped ginger (optional)                                                                

1 red pepper, chopped                                                                                  

1 tsp. anise seed, cracked

1 Tbsp. sweet paprika

1 Tbsp. ground cumin

2 Tbsp. ground coriander

½ cup chopped parsley

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup sliced green olives

1 stick cinnamon

2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses or brown sugar

1/3 cup finely sliced preserved lemon, zest only

1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar                                                   

1 bunch green onions, minced

salt and pepper to taste

Brown the legs, skin side down, in a heavy pan until most of the fat is rendered out. Set the meat aside. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, red pepper and spices. Sauté until tender. Add the parsley, stock, olives, cinnamon, pomegranate molasses or brown sugar and lemons. Bring to a boil, return the meat to the pan, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked and tender, about 90 minutes, longer as needed. Stir in the vinegar, salt and pepper. If the juices are too thin, bring to a boil uncovered, until sauce consistency. Garnish with green onions. Serve hot with roasted vegetables, cous cous, tabbouleh or mashed spuds.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction [CNF], Culinary

Preserved lemons and ageless aunties

Grainews

March 2020. I’m standing in my auntie’s orchard on a mild afternoon, the temperature about 18 C. In Canada, it’s deep winter, but here in California, the citrus trees have bloomed, and the fruit is ripe.

It’s a tough gig, being a grower on the Canadian prairies. We make jokes about the harsh weather – “But it’s a dry cold!” – but in reality some of us are pretty chuffed that we manage to grow anything at all.

Of course, we can’t grow everything. If I had my druthers, my little piece of prairie would be blessed with a kinder, gentler, more Mediterranean climate. I’d grow grapes, sweet cherries, olives, dates and figs, eggplant, all kinds of citrus. Lemons, grapefruit, limes and oranges fresh from the tree are an intoxicating thing. Just as intoxicating is the aroma of their blossoms before the tree produces fruit. O my.

Dozens of songs have been written about the lemon, from “Blind Lemon Blues” by Lead Belly to Prince’s “Lemon Crush”. In literature, too, lemons lead the citrus firmament – D.H. Lawrence waxed rhapsodic about lemons like innumerable stars in his 1921 travel book, Sea and Sardinia. But nothing but the doing of it captures the total coolness of strolling outside and twisting a fresh lemon free from the tree. As I said, the Mediterranean.

Citrus is an undeniably Arabic influence. Groves of bitter, or Seville, oranges, and other citrus were planted by Arabs carrying Islam into Europe. Flavours bequeathed by the Arabs to the cuisines of the Mediterranean include saffron, sweet-sour agrodolce sauce, brilliant on grilled fish, and preserved lemons. This is to fresh lemons as powdered and crystallized ginger is to a fresh hand of ginger – recognizably the same flavour, but not interchangeable. Fresh lemons are a brightener of flavours without equal – almost always, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice elevates a dish. But preserved lemons are transformed into condiment, losing their acidic rasp to the mellowing influence of salt.

So here it is – how to preserve lemons, then what to do with them. First we eat, then a glass of wine as we discuss the merits of moving to the Mediterranean.

  • I flew home safely. Two weeks later, the borders closed, planes were grounded, and the pandemic closed in.

Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons are a classic Mediterranean condiment. They are wondrous added to prawns, grilled fish, stews or tagines, roasted potatoes, bowls of lentils or chickpeas, grain salad, vinaigrette. Makes 1 pint

6 lemons

2 Tbsp. kosher or pickling salt

4 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick, broken

1 tsp. coriander seeds

¼ c. melted honey (optional)

Quarter washed lemons ¾ of the way down the fruit, leaving the quarters attached at the stem end. Stuff each with 1 tsp. salt. Pack into jar, peel side up, squishing well with a spoon to get the juices flowing. Sprinkle each layer with coriander seed, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves. Add honey, and if needed, extra lemon juice to cover. Cover and age in the fridge for a month before using.

Chicken with Olives and Preserved Lemons

Called a tagine in Morocco, a stew is a stew by any other name. You can swap the chicken for large cubes of lamb shoulder or cross-cut shanks; just extend the cooking time. For added complexity, add a pinch of saffron. Serves 6-10

6 chicken thighs and drums, bone in

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 head garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. chopped ginger (optional)                                                                

1 red pepper, chopped                                                                                  

1 tsp. anise seed, cracked

1 Tbsp. sweet paprika

1 Tbsp. ground cumin

2 Tbsp. ground coriander

½ cup chopped parsley

4 cups chicken stock

1 cup sliced green olives

1 stick cinnamon

2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses or brown sugar

1/3 cup finely sliced preserved lemon, zest only

1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar                                                   

1 bunch green onions, minced

salt and pepper to taste

Brown the legs, skin side down, in a heavy pan until most of the fat is rendered out. Set the meat aside. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, red pepper and spices. Sauté until tender. Add the parsley, stock, olives, cinnamon, pomegranate molasses or brown sugar and lemons. Bring to a boil, return the meat to the pan, reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked and tender, about 90 minutes, longer as needed. Stir in the vinegar, salt and pepper. If the juices are too thin, bring to a boil uncovered, until sauce consistency. Garnish with green onions. Serve hot with roasted vegetables, cous cous, tabbouleh or mashed spuds.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction [CNF], Culinary

Grainews: First We eat: Cooking on a Winter-Weather Shoestring

Grainews

The view out my window is relentlessly white. Deep snow has collected across the yard, and the temperature is hovering around -30°C, as it has for the past week. The forecast for the coming week is no better. The roads are rotten. I’ve used up the coffee cream and eaten all the oranges.

Winter weather means that this week’s cooking must be from the pantry, with no spontaneous trips to town. But even when the pantry looks scant, we can find an onion, a carrot, a can of beans, a few spuds. Peasant food? Absolutely. Those peasants, my grandparents among them, were hardy folk – and simple dishes based on vegetables and grains with a modicum of meat kept them hale and strong.

Yes, but – you might say – there’s nothing special about squash. Nothing sublime about onions. Nothing redeeming about root veggies.

Maybe not. But it’s all in what you do with them: simplicity is the mother of inventive cooking, and sideways thinking is a sure sign of a cook accustomed to using few ingredients.

Here are a few ideas for cooks on a winter-weather shoestring.

Sauté sliced ham or bacon in a pot, add garlic, onions and carrots generously seasoned, then add wedges of cabbage. Add white, black or pinto beans, cover with water or stock, and let the magic happen under a lid. Later, add a smoked pork hock or a sausage or two, et voila! Cassoulet for many!

When a sack of onions is the sum total of your pantry, make onion soup. Start with a vegetable stock made with onions, carrots, garlic, potatoes, herbs and water. Let it simmer while you don your swimming goggles and slice a prodigious heap of onions for the soup. Sauté the onions and an entire head of garlic, and add pinches of dried Mediterranean herbs and the dregs of last night’s wine before you tip in the stock. Thickly slice a loaf of bread, drizzle each slice with olive oil, top with a spoonful of onions from the pot and maybe a bit of cheese, then broil the croutons before floating them in the soup bowls.

If you have a squash languishing in the cupboard, dice it, sweat it with onion, garlic and olive oil, then stir in arborio rice and vegetable stock for a rewarding risotto.

Alternatively, combine the diced squash with a handful of split peas, star anise or fennel seed, cumin, grated fresh ginger, sautéed onion and stock. A dollop of honey and a pinch of salt bring it all into harmony.

Lentils in the cupboard mean quick-cooking high-protein dishes like mulligatawny, the yummy self-thickening soup of Indian origins. The formula is simple and easily adapted to whatever produce is in your fridge: onions + garlic + ginger + oil + veggies + Indian spices + lentils + fruit + water = soup. Garnish the finished soup with yoghurt and toasted coconut.

Pasta works well with a handful of broccoli, garlic and onion, a generous drizzle of olive oil, a smattering of hot chili flakes, and the last of the Parmesan. Add cooked lentils or beans, and it becomes pasta e fagioli, an Italian peasant classic.

Use grated raw yams, sweet potatoes or common potatoes with red, white or yellow skins and flesh for latkes.

If the flour jar is full, make pizza. Top it with roasted slivered root vegetables (carrots are especially good; parsnips are very sweet) or roasted mushrooms or eggplant, leftover chicken or roast lamb, a bit of cheese. Slices of grilled onion add a sweet, charred note. Fold the filling within a small round of dough and pinch the edges closed for a crusty calzone.

That’s supper on a shoestring. First we eat, then we talk about goin’ to town.

Golden Vegetable Latkes

This works best with raw potatoes: choose red-skinned, yellow-fleshed, purple or sweet, and add grated carrot as well. Children will drown these in syrup; adults might prefer a compote of simmered cranberries, apple or pears with yoghurt on the side. Serves 2-4

1 lb. sweet potatoes, potatoes or root vegetables, peeled and coarsely grated

2 carrots, grated

½ onion or a handful of green onions, minced

1 tsp. dried basil

a handful of chopped parsley

salt and hot chili flakes to taste

1-2 eggs

3-4 Tbsp. cornstarch or flour

Combine ingredients. Heat a well-seasoned cast iron pan, then lightly oil the pan. Scoop the mixture into the pan, pressing each scoop flat into a patty. Cook for several minutes on medium heat until brown, then flip to cook the second side. Place the finished patties on a baking tray in a warm oven while you cook the rest.

 

 

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction [CNF], Culinary