Did you make Paula Wolfert’s preserved lemons last week?
For me, the 7 days were up on Tuesday, but I cheated and pulled a few wedges out of the jar when friends dropped by over the weekend. I chopped the salty, half-cured peel and tossed it into a batch of ho-hum Greek olives along with a spoonful of minced fresh rosemary. Delicious with drinks. Hmmm…maybe a little too delicious.
The Meyer lemons have been so beautiful that I’ve started two more jars for the pantry, one flavored with a stick of true cinnamon, the other with a hefty pinch of Iranian saffron threads. Already the saffron-infused lemons are glowing like the setting sun. So pretty to look at when I come into the kitchen each morning. Just three days until they are ready…
Preserved lemons must be in the air. Yesterday Julia Moskin’s piece, “DIY Cooking Handbook” (The New York Times, March 16, 2011, pp. D1 and D6) included a Paula Wolfert recipe for….preserved lemons. Not the quick 7-day recipe, but a traditional Moroccan version which requires 3 to 4 weeks of curing. For extra flavor she added black peppercorns and bay leaves to the mix.
Moskin notes that lately preserved lemons have been jumping out of the tagine into everyday cooking. “New York chefs add the minced peel to salads and garnish fried seafood with it; the cured-lemon flavor is particularly friendly to salmon, carrots, olives, parsley and potatoes. The lemony brine is great in a bloody mary.”
Last week, after reading DIY: Happiness is a Jar of Salted Preserved Lemons on SpiceLines, Nancy commented that she especially likes to mix cured lemon peel with carrots and cumin. I thought that was such a good idea that when not one but two big bags of carrots emerged from the garage refrigerator—our old, but still perky fridge where we keep well-chilled bottles of prosecco and fresh oranges—I knew I had to give it a try.
I like roasting carrots, especially in early spring when they tend to run large and a bit woody. Roasting concentrates their natural sweetness, while the browned edges take on an appealing caramelized flavor. Cumin complements the earthy taste of the root vegetable; pungent Chinese cassia (a.k.a. cinnamon) bridges the two flavors, adding its own astringent edge. Preserved lemon brings in a ray of citrusy sunshine.
Add a few grains of cayenne if you like, but be careful. A little heat goes a very long way.
I served this dish last night with roast chicken and cannellini beans simmered until soft, then enriched with olive oil, herbs and chopped tomato.
So delicious, so satisfying on a chilly evening–and it tastes like spring is just around the corner.
Roasted Carrots with Preserved Lemon, Cumin and Cinnamon
To serve 4, as a small side dish
2 pounds fresh carrots, washed, peeled and trimmed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 wedges preserved lemon, both peel and pulp
2 additional tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander seed
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used Chinese cassia)
A few grains cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley
Peel from one wedge preserved lemon, slivered, for garnish
1. Set the oven to 500 degrees. Place the oven rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil and set aside.
2. If the carrots are small, leave them whole. Otherwise, roll cut one carrot, starting at the thick end: First cut a ½ inch piece on the diagonal, then roll the carrot 180 degrees and make another diagonal cut. Continue until you’ve cut the entire carrot into chunks. Repeat with the rest of the carrots.
3. Put the carrot pieces (or whole small carrots) in a large bowl, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with your hands so that the carrots are covered with the oil and seasonings.
4. On the prepared baking sheet, spread the carrots in one even layer. Roast them in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes, turning them every 5 minutes with a spatula. The carrots should be soft and slightly burned around the edges. Put the carrots into a mixing bowl and let them cool until they won’t burn your fingers. (Small whole carrots should be cut into large bite-size pieces.)
5. Mix the cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cayenne (if using) in a small dish.
6. In a blender or mini-food processor, combine the 2 additional tablespoons of olive oil and 2 preserved lemon wedges, coarsely chopped (both peel and pulp). Blend until fairly smooth, but leave small flecks of the rind in the mixture.
7. When the carrots are cool enough to handle, sprinkle the combined spices into the bowl and mix them well with the carrots. Scrape the preserved lemon mixture over the carrots and again mix well so that all surfaces are coated.
8. Serve at room temperature, tossed with chopped parsley and garnished with a few slivers of preserved lemon rind.