Tag Archives: spices

Preserved Lemons

I always like to keep a constant supply of what I call my must-have store cupboard essentials, like home-made vanilla products, dried tomatoes, preserves etc.  Even though I refer to them as store cupboard items, some need refrigeration, as living in the middle east does not allow for a cool enough pantry or store cupboard.

Used in Moroccan and North African cooking, preserved lemons are an indispensable and wonderful item to have… at a moments notice food can take on a new dimension both in flavour and taste by adding small amounts of preserved lemons to salad dressings, salads, stews, relishes, pizza toppings, stuffings, marinades and so much more.

When I started preserving lemons I remember following a recipe that used so much salt that I found them inedible and quite horrible, throwing the whole lot in the bin and not thinking much of preserved lemons.

Before satellite TV came to Bahrain my parents would record cookery programs for me and send them by post. Dad was usually in charge of editing but I could always tell when he had nodded off on the job, leaving me to watch cookery programs along with long TV commercials and bits of other programs. And it was in one of those recorded cookery programs I gave preserved lemons another chance… and if you have never tried making them before, it is so worth the effort!

A little goes a long way with preserved lemons, which are salty, tart and intensely flavoursome and when it comes to slicing and dicing the preserved lemons, a good sharp knife is a must, obtaining the finest results.

With a lemon tree (two years) growing in the garden I would so like to tell you that I am using my own organic lemons, but will have to wait until next year… all my lovely little lemons this year turned black and fell off 😦  I am still not giving up… so fingers crossed for next year.

Preserved Lemons - Diced and Sliced

 Preserved Lemons

Ingredients:

  • 5 lemons, (see note below if not using organic or un-waxed lemons)
  • 5 rounded tablespoons of sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaf
  • extra juice of 3 or 4 lemon (zest beforehand and use in another recipe or dry the peel)
  • olive oil

You will need a suitable preserving jar with a tight fitting lid.

How to make: Using a sharp knife cut the lemons lengthways into 4 quarters, stopping just about 1/2cm before the stem, keeping the lemon quarters intact. Open the lemons up a little and place a rounded tablespoon of salt into the middle of each lemon. Tightly pack all the lemons into a clean sterilized jar, adding the mustard seeds, black peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Cover the jar with a lid and set aside for several hours, by this time the lemons will start to release a little of their juices.

Open up the jar and using the back of a small ladle, push the lemons down into the jar, helping to release more juice. Pour in the extra lemon juice to fully cover the lemons. Pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface of the lemon juice and cover with a lid.

Store in the refrigerator for one month before using! When using the preserved lemons remove the pulp and dice or slice the required amount. The pulp can be liquidized and used sparingly in marinades, stews or discarded if wished. Use lemons within six months.

Tip: To help remove and melt the wax from lemons; place lemons into a heatproof bowl and pour over some very hot (not boiling) water. Leave the lemons to sit for a minute or two. Remove the lemons using a slotted spoon or tongs and immediately dry the warm lemons by rubbing them with some kitchen paper or a clean lint free tea towel.

Try using different whole spices like, fennel seeds, cumin, coriander seeds, cardamon pods allspice and star anise, you could also add whole dried chilli.

Have you made or used preserved lemons before? What is your favourite way of using them?

lamb and vegetable stew with arabic flatbread – thareed

Stewing is an age-old method of cooking and history suggests that these types of dishes have been around since the advent of clay pottery. From gumbo to Irish stew many cultures from around the globe have some type of stew recorded in their culinary repertoire. Coming from an Irish upbringing stews play close to my taste buds heart as Irish Stew (also lamb and vegetables) is a national favourite!

Thareed is a stew consisting of lamb and vegetables that have been slowly simmered in a spiced tomato based broth. Once cooked, torn pieces of thin flatbread (khoubz) are added, soaking into the flavorsome broth, making the dish a complete meal in itself! Thareed is a popular dish eaten during Ramadan and served for Iftar, the first meal eaten after fasting.

Dried black lime (loomi aswad) added to the simmering broth of thareed imparts a delicious sweet-tangy flavour which is quite unique! Piercing with a knife beforehand allows the broth to permeate the dried lime, releasing its wonderful flavour, that I believe cannot be substituted in the same way using fresh lime or lemon zest!

These small limes are boiled for a short time in salted water and left to dry out in the sun or in a dehydrator, turning them tan or black in colour depending on the length of time spent drying. Throughout the middle east dried limes are used as a souring agent in cooking and are also ground and used in spice mixes and marinades! Sometimes these dried limes are called whole black lemons or lemon powder… somehow the name may have got lost in the translation… but dried limes they are!

Long and slowly simmered stews deserve the best cooking pots  and my preference is a heavy gauge pot with a tight-fitting lid (also called a Dutch oven), which can be used either on the stove top or in an oven. The food can also be served straight from the pot itself, making washing-up a breeze!

Slow simmering stews with wafting aromas are usually associated with cold blustery winter days, however living in Bahrain with a 45 celsius summer heat  leaves me with the only suggestion… turn your air-conditioning to full blast and tuck in!

Thareed

Ingredients:

  • 1kg lamb shoulder chops
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Baharat (Arabic spices, see note below)  or your favourite mixed spices
  • 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds, lightly crushed
  • 4 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 4  heaped tablespoons of tomato purée
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 small whole dried limes, pierced with a knife
  • 2 inch piece of cassia bark or cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole green chilli
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 large waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 baby courgettes, cut into chunks
  • 1 or 2 piece (approximately) of thin flatbread (khoubz)

 How to make: With a sharp knife, remove the meat from the bone, trim excess fat and cut into cubes, do not discard the bones as they will be used for flavour.

In a flame-proof casserole dish or heavy based saucepan placed over high heat, heat the oil until hot. Add the lamb and bones in batches and brown on all sides, transfer each batch to a plate when browned. Set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, cook until soft and golden. While cooking the onion you may notice the bottom of the pan getting brown, adding a little water will help loosen the brown bits from the bottom while stirring with a wooden spoon. Add the garlic and ginger, cook for about 30 seconds stirring continuously, next add in the mixed spices and coriander seeds, cook for a further 30 seconds. Add in the tomatoes, tomato purée, fresh coriander, lamb and bones, stir all together.

Pour in the water, add the dried lime, cassia bark or cinnamon stick,  green chilli and salt.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer very gently for 1 hour.

Add the potatoes and carrots into the stew cover and continue to gently simmer for another 40 minutes. Add the courgettes, cover and simmer for another 15 minutes or until tender.

Once the stew is finished cooking and meat and vegetables are tender, taste  and add more salt if necessary. Tear the bread into 3 or 4 inch pieces and gently mix into the dish, the bread will soak into the broth, no dry bits of bread should be visible. Serve straight from the cooking pot or place into a large serving bowl. Serves 4 to 5 people.

Baharat is the Arabic word for spice mix which may consist of a mix of ground black pepper, cinnamon sticks or cassia bark, cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, chilies, turmeric and nutmeg in various quantities. The souks in Bahrain have a wonderful variety of whole and ground spices.

What is your favourite stew?

Bahraini Kebab

When served Bahraini kebab, you will not find yourself eating… a dish consisting of small pieces of meat, tomato, onions, etc., threaded onto skewers and grilled, generally over charcoal, which is the dictionary definition. Instead you will be served a vegetarian snack made from a thick batter, which has been shallow-fried, making this kebab resemble a pakora or a pakoda… in my opinion!

The batter for the Bahraini kebab is made using chickpea flour, known locally as kebab flourbesan and gram flour are also other names for chickpea flour. Tomato, onion and other spices are some of the ingredients incorporated into the batter, however ingredients may differ from household to household. Adding kurrat (so does my sister in-law) which is locally known as “bughel” adds a nice onion flavour to the kebab. Kurrat is also known as Egyptian leek and looks like long flat blades of grass which are widely grown in the Middle East.

The Bahraini kebab is very popular during Ramadan and usually served during Iftar. But also eaten and enjoyed as a snack with a cup of sweet tea (chai) anytime of day. Having had my fair share over the years… it’s a bit like throwing buns to an elephant, these kebabs are so delicious and I can never stop at just one!  Crisp on the outside with a soft interior, the Bahraini kebab makes a great little spicy vegetarian appetizer for passing around when entertaining. Also, delicious when served with a cool refreshing (will post recipe) yoghurt and coriander dipping sauce.

Bahraini Kebab

Bahraini Kebab

Bahraini Kebab

Ingredients:

  • 150g chickpea flour or kebab flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • pinch of garam masala spice mix
  • 1 egg
  • 140ml water
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped tomato
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped red onion
  • 3 blades kurrat, finely chopped
  • 1 small green chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed

You will also need some sunflower oil for shallow-frying.

How to make: Sieve the chickpea flour, baking powder, salt, chilli powder and garam masala into a medium mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the chickpea flour, add the egg and pour in the water, whisking all the ingredients together until the batter is smooth. Add in the tomato, onion, kurrat, chilli and garlic, mix all the ingredients together and leave the batter (covered) to rest in the fridge for about 25 to 30 minutes.

Shallow fry: Pour sunflower oil ( approximately 1/2 inch deep) into a frying pan and heat until the oil becomes hot. Place tablespoons of batter carefully into the hot oil and fry until deep golden, flipping the kebab over, cooking the other side. When cooked remove the kebab from the oil with the help of a slotted spoon and transfer onto a plate covered with some paper kitchen towel to absorb any excess oil. Serve warm.

Note: Recipe can easily be doubled which will make approximately 30 pieces!

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