“Concerning the spices of Arabia let no more be said. The whole country is scented with them, and exhales an odor marvellously sweet.” – Herodotus
I vividly remember the first cook book I read with the ability to transport me somewhere else. My mother had just bought Paula Wolfert’s seminal classic ‘Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco’. She always had a wonderful collection of cookbooks, some of which I borrowed permanently. From the opening stanzas, I imagined myself on the same 1959 voyage aboard the Yugoslavian freighter as Paula. I could sense the nervous excitement of travelling somewhere undiscovered and exotic. I crawled under my sheets with a flashlight, creating a Bedouin tent in the sub sahara, leaving the cold Midwestern night far behind. Soon the perfumed smells of exotic spices and mechoui spit roasting co-mingled in my imagined world of my youth.
When I became a Chef, I never forgot the haunting flavors of Morocco. I often borrowed ideas and seasonings, infusing them into my culinary vocabulary. One of my favorite ingredients to cook with are preserved lemons. I love their uniquely sharp and floral flavor. I use them in a variety of ways from chermoula (Moroccan vinaigrette) to a Moorish spiced duck confit with preserved lemon, dried fig and arugula couscous to preserved lemon madeleines. Paula Wolfert saves the briny juice for bloody Mary’s and salad dressings. They are incredibly easy to make and last for a long time. Try varying the citrus or mixing different spice profiles into the brine. Some people rinse the lemons before using. I just adjust the amount of salt needed in a recipe.
- 3 lemons
- ½ cup kosher salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
- ½ teaspoon black peppercorns, whole
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- Trim both ends off lemon.
- Cut a cross into the lemons from the top down ⅔rds of the way.
- Put two tablespoons of kosher salt in the bottom of a pint sized mason jar.
- Layer the lemons in there alternating with healthy sprinkles of kosher salt.
- Add all the spices and herbs.
- Seal jar and let sit a minimum of three weeks. It will keep two years.