food + drink · posts · store cupboard

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?

food + drink · posts · store cupboard

doughnut peach conserve

A miscommunication and two food shoppers meant a glut of doughnut peaches over filled our fruit bowls. I absolutely love eating these doughnut shaped peaches… to me they are little flattened pillows of sweetness with a wonderful peachy perfume. If you need a sweet fix… eat one of these doughnut peaches but you might find it is hard to stop at one. Less fuzzy skinned than other varieties of peach, the is flesh pale, sweet, juicy and low on acidity. Because of their shape, these peaches are also called Saturn or even UFO’s.

With a big bowl full of peaches sitting in front of me I thought to make a homely jar of chunky conserve,  the urge to start  skinning some peaches came upon me!

With a big bowlful of peaches sitting in front of me I decided to make a jar of chunky conserve. Making home-made conserve or jam is not something I do on a regular basis so using ordinary household utensils for the process suits fine. My mother made jam on many occasions with no fancy equipment and I have vivid memories of the big bubbling pot and the wonderful smell of jam filling our kitchen. The chilled saucers in the freezer ready and waiting for the wrinkle test. All the saved glass jars lined up on the kitchen table waiting to be filled with the hot sticky jam. Pressing circles of waxed paper over the surface (this is where I would help) of the jam, then covering the top of the jar with cellophane and securing with thick brown elastic bands. Once the jam had cooled a flick test with the fingers would be preformed on the cellophane covers, confirming the covers were taut and a proper seal had taken place.

Conserves contain bigger and more whole pieces of fruit than jams, both contain lots of sugar which acts as a preservative, enabling long storage of home-made conserves and jams without the need for refrigeration. As I am not interested in storing jam for months on end in a cupboard, making preserves with a high ratio of fruit and less sugar is my preference… hence this home-made conserve needs to be refrigerated and consumed within three to four weeks… no problem there! A delicious tasting peachy conserve, flavored with orange and a hint of clove… with a lovely spoonable consistency.

Doughnut Peach Conserve

Ingredients:

  • 500g doughnut peaches (choose firm fruit)
  • zest one small orange, afterwards segment the orange taking care not to include any pith or membrane
  • 225g granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (preserves the colour of the fruit and increases the pectin content)
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon of home-made vanilla extract, or store-bought

You will need: One 450ml jar with a lid or use a few smaller volume jars, which will need to be sterilized! Some waxed or silicon paper cut into circles to fit the appropriate jars!

Removing the skin from peaches: Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Also fill a large bowl with cold water and throw in some ice cubes. Cut a shallow cross (only into the skin) on the base of each peach with a sharp knife. Place the peaches into the boiling water for about 20 seconds. With the help of a slotted spoon, transfer the peaches quickly into the cold water bath (stops the peaches from cooking) for about 30 seconds. Remove and skin the peaches. Unfortunately all the lovely colour disappears with the skins and the peaches will look somewhat insipid!

This next step is completely optional but wanting to put a bit of blush back into the conserve I gathered the skins of the peaches and gave them a good squeeze over a bowl, collecting about a tablespoon and a half of pinkish coloured liquid (with a bit of flavour)  which I incorporate when making the conserve!

How to make:

Cut each peach into quarters and discard the stone. Cut the orange segments into small pieces.

Add the peaches, juice from the skins (if using) orange zest, orange segments, sugar, lemon juice and cloves into a wide low sided thick-bottomed stainless steel saucepan. Gently mix everything together and let the contents stand undisturbed for about 15 minutes, this process helps extract the juice and also firms up the pieces of fruit enabling chunks of fruit to remain whole in the cooked conserve.

Heat the contents of the saucepan gently while stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar has completely dissolved. Raise the heat and cook steadily (not a rolling boil) until  the fruit is soft and setting point (see note below) has been reached. Take care that the jam does not catch on the bottom of the saucepan and burn! This will take around 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow the conserve to cool for about 10 minutes, stir in the vanilla extract, remove and discard the cloves.

Spoon the peach conserve into a hot sterilized jar.  Press a circle of waxed or silicon paper onto the surface of the conserve and cover with lids.  Store the completely cooled jar in the refrigerator.

How to know when your preserve has reached setting point: Usually I follow the wrinkle test when making a conserve or jam. Spoon a teaspoon of the boiling conserve onto one of the cold saucers from the freezer, let sit for about a minute until cold, then push with your finger… if the preserve wrinkles it has reached setting point, if not, boil for a couple of minutes and test again.

Wonderful delicious ways to use and enjoy Doughnut Peach Conserve:

  • Mix a spoonful of peach conserve thorough a pot of home-made natural yogurt or store-bought, makes a delicious real fruit flavoured yogurt.
  • Place a small chunk of creamy blue cheese or soft goats cheese on a cracker and top with a little blob of peach conserve… I love this combination!
  • Serve the peach conserve as an accompaniment to pan cooked duck breast for a quick fruit sauce.
  • For a quick fruit topping, spoon some peach conserve over plain cheese cake or some vanilla  ice cream.
  • Peach conserve served with warmed croissants, scones, a nice chunk of home-made brown bread or french toast… simple but all delicious!
  • Replace the blackcurrant jam with peach conserve in this Welsh Cheese Cakes recipe.
What is your favourite flavour of conserve or jam? 
food + drink · posts · store cupboard

how to make garam masala

Garam masala means warm or hot spice mix and is a blend of spices used extensively in Indian cooking. There are many variations of garam masala as there are cooks and this depends on taste, the recipe being prepared and the region.

Sometimes garam masala is referred to as a finishing spice and can be sprinkled over the surface of a finished dish just before serving or added towards the end of cooking, enhancing the dishes fragrance and flavour. Also this spice mixture (whole or ground) can be added to recipes at the beginning stages of cooking.

Making a visit to the souk (spice section) in Manama, I managed to stock up on some whole spices, some of which will be used to make a fairly basic garam masala which I use when cooking Dhal Makhani... which happens to be one of my favourite Indian dishes!  Usually I grind small batches of the whole spices using my electric spice grinder which does the job, although not as finely ground as shop bought! An electric coffee grinder can also be used, solely for the purpose of grinding whole spices… unless you are happy to consume spiced ground coffee!

Bahrain’s shops, supermarket’s and souk’s are stocked with a huge array of ground spices and spice mixes (which I buy at times) and that means never needing to grind another spice! However, grinding whole spices at home will provide maximum freshness, bringing the aroma and flavour of the spices to another level!

Garam Masala

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 1inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 3 blades of mace
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 dried bay leaves

How to make:

Heat a heavy-based frying pan over moderate heat and lightly roast each spice (except the bay leaf) seperately, moving the frying pan around until the spice releases a fragrant aroma, this does not take long, about 30 seconds. Immediately transfer the roasted spice onto a cold plate.

Grind all the cooled spices plus the bay leaf in an electric spice grinder or coffee grinder and store in an airtight container.

Note:  After dry roasting the cinnamon stick and blades of mace, break them up into smaller pieces using a pestle and mortar! Your spice grinder or coffee grinder will thank you for this! Also tear up the bay leaf.

If you are not a big cardamom fan, break open the pods and use only the seeds.

If you can’t find mace blades use 1 whole nutmeg instead, break into chunks before dry roasting.

To dry roast or not to dry roast!  I guess that depends on the recipe in question and may also be a preference!  I tend to dry roast the whole spices if I am going to use the ground garam masala towards the end of cooking!

Storage:  Spices are best kept in airtight containers away from direct heat and sunlight. The recommended keeping time for ground spices and whole spices varies, with ground spices loosing their potency faster than whole spices! Let your nose, eyes and taste be  the judge when checking the freshness of your spices!  It is always best to buy small quantities of spices and replenish often.

Do you make up your own spice blends? Do you have any thoughts on dry roasting spices?