August – Fruit and Cucumber Salsa

August – Fruit and Cucumber Salsa

I don’t think summer is the season for fancy cooking. It is the time for salads of all kinds, melon and prosciutto, yogurt with fresh fruit and berries, juicy sliced tomatoes, BBQ, veggies on the grill, and chilled wine. The spotlight should be on highlighting the glory of the best local and seasonal ingredients, cooked (or not cooked) with a few fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil.

That being said, sometimes the food needs a little embellishing. Maybe you are expecting company or it is a special holiday weekend. I want to introduce the idea of a fruit salsa to go with those amazing grilled dishes. We are all familiar with a tomato based salsa but peaches, nectarines, watermelon, and mangos all make excellent salsas. If you live in Hawaii or the tropics, pineapples are also a good choice (I don’t think they are worth eating elsewhere…sorry Dole).

fruit salsa

fruit salsa

Use whatever is freshest and perfectly ripe but not mushy. This is a very loose recipe but I will give some general directions. I think the essentials are sweet, crisp, spicy heat, sharpness, acid, and salt. In the salsa shown above the peaches provide sweet, the cucumber is crisp, the chilis are heat, the onion sharp, and lime juice acid.

Ingredients

  • Fresh fruit, cut into cubes – I used 4 peaches
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled if necessary and cubed to the same size
  • 1 – 2 hot chilis – seeded and cut into small cubes, I used 1 jalapeno and 1 small red chili
  • 1/2 red onion – chopped finely
  • squeeze of lime juice
  • salt to taste

Again this is a very flexible list. If you have a ripe avocado, add it. What about a mix of fruit? Watermelon with tomatoes is a winner. Apples would be good in the fall. Have some fresh basil on hand? Wonderful! Cilantro? Yum! Mint? Oh my! See what I mean?

Notice that there is no oil in this salsa? None is needed. It is a good way to get an extra serving of fruits and vegetables deliciously without any additional fat.

Peach and Cucumber Salsa

Peach and Cucumber Salsa

I am taking this to share at Fiesta Friday #131, hosted by Angie. This weeks co-hosts are Su @ Su’s Healthy Living and Laura @ Feast Wisely. Click on the link to read the posts and join the party.

April – Fermented Lemon Pickle with Indian 5-Spices

April – Fermented Lemon Pickle with Indian 5-Spices

You will find recipes for fermenting vegetables (and sometimes fruit) in every culture. it is a way to preserve seasonal vegetables, increase their nutritional potency, and add a ton of flavor as well. In its simplest form, fermenting vegetables just involves submerging vegetables in salty liquid and leaving them alone to let the wild bacteria do its work.

Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Moroccan preserved lemons, Chinese pickles, Indian pickles, Japanese umeboshi are all examples of fermented vegetables and fruits. In his book, The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz explains that although you can call fermented vegetables pickled, all pickles are not fermented. The “Dill pickles” found in grocery stores are vegetables preserved in vinegar and are not fermented. It is important to know this difference as eating fermented foods has a lot of health benefits.  

Katz in his book observes correctly that Indian pickling is not an unified tradition – each state, each region, each sub-culture, and even each family has its prized pickling method.  Most will add heated mustard or sesame oil, but some may not.  Some will leave it out in the sun, but some will just leave it in a cool place inside.  Some will add lemon juice, some will not. But throughout India you will find fermented lemon pickle served with rice and yogurt. It is a pantry staple.

This fermented lemon pickle is definitely out of my usual comfort zone, but it was so intriguing. I love the mix of spices, and I just happened to have them all on hand having recently visited the Oaktown Spice Shop. I thought, why not? Go for it! I’m posting  the recipe, even though it has to cure for another month, because there are many of us right now with a glut of Meyer lemons, you may want to try it.

I found this recipe on the blog hungry tigress. There are two parts to the blog, tigress in a pickle and tigress in a jam. Check out this blog for wonderful recipes on preserving, pickling and fermenting. I made the recipe exactly how it was written on her blog, you can read the original here.

Meyer Lemon Pickle with Indian 5-Spices

makes 1/2 gallon or two quart jars

Ingredients

  • 13 organic Meyer lemons, washed and wiped dry
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
  • scant 1/2 cup fine sea salt
  • scant 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup of cayenne powder or ground chili of choice
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
  • optional: 1/4 teaspoon of asafoetida powder

Method

  1. Wash and wipe the lemons with a dry cloth. Slice 12 of them in quarters lengthwise, slice each quarter through its width into three pieces. Remove the seeds as you go. Put the lemons into a large bowl and try to catch as much juice as possible, adding it to the bowl as you go.
  2. In a heavy dry skillet toast the 5 whole spices on medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally. As soon as you smell a wonderful aroma and the fenugreek seeds have turned a shade darker, they are ready. If you are using the asafoetida powder, add it the last few seconds before turning everything out onto a plate to cool.IMG_4333
  3. Once cool, grind them in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Add them to the lemons along with the salt, sugar, cayenne, and turmeric. Stir until all is combined.
  4. Scoop all into a immaculately dry half gallon (or into two quart jars) glass jar with a tight fitting lid. The recipe warns that the jar and all utensils that touch the pickle must be dry because even a little water could lead to spoilage of the lemons.
  5. Place the jar in a sunny windowsill. Give the jar a shake every day or so, or keep in right side up one day and upside down the next.
  6. Every few days open the cap, carefully, as there will be fermentation going on inside and it will sizzle a bit when you open the lid. The pickle should be done in about 3 weeks, taste it to see if the flavor and texture is to your liking. You want some firmness to remain.
  7. Store in the refrigerator and it will easily last for a year or more. Be sure to use a clean dry spoon each time.
    Meyer Lemon Fermented Pickle with Indian 5-Spices

    Meyer Lemon Fermented Pickle with Indian 5-Spices

    I love this pickle with plain brown rice or another grain, with a dollop of yogurt on the side to cut the heat. But, my husband prefers it whirled in a blender with some mayonnaise. It it a wonderful sauce for roasted vegetables, fish, or chicken. It also makes a wonderful salad dressing, whirled to a smooth consistency in a food processor (I use my mini one) and thinned with a little olive oil.

Fermented Lemon Pickle, olive oil and mayonnaise

Fermented Lemon Pickle, olive oil and mayonnaise

Summer Detox Salad

Summer Detox Salad

April – Quick Meyer Lemon Pickle

April – Quick Meyer Lemon Pickle

Lemon pickle is often served with Indian meals. I can imagine it would go well with many other kinds of meals as well. Do you have any favorites? I’ve purchased jars of it in the grocery store and been disappointed. But, I love the idea of this pickle and have an abundance of lemons to use. This recipe came from Madhur Jaffrey’s book World Vegetarian. It’s a quick and simple pickle which is ready in 5-7 days, unlike ones that are fermented for several weeks. It also uses ingredients common to most kitchens. There really isn’t anything too fancy here. You could probably use regular lemons as well, let me know if you try it.

Quick Lemon Pickle

Quick Lemon Pickle

Ingredients

  • 2 large fresh lemons (preferably organic), well washed and dried
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons of pickling salt – I used Kosher
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 7 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice

Preparation

  1. Cut the lemons into 1/8 inch slices, cut the slices into 1/8 inch dice. Remove the seeds.
  2. Add the lemons and the rest of the ingredients to a saucepan, bring to a boil and simmer 5-6 minutes.
  3. Transfer the contents of your saucepan to a clean 8-12 oz container. Cover with the lid. Cool.
  4. Store on the counter at room temperature for 5-7 days to cure.
  5. Refrigerate once to your liking.
  6. Use within 6 weeks.

Note: We ate the first of this pickle last night with roasted Lemon Rosemary Chicken. Oh my, was it a hit! I wish I had made a double batch! This lemon pickle is tart, sweet, spicy, has definite heat but is not overwhelming. And, it set off the moist chicken in a delightful way. This pickle about to become a staple in my fridge.

Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Quick Spicy Lemon Pickle

Lemon Rosemary Chicken with Quick Spicy Lemon Pickle

I might try freezing some to have this winter. Has anyone tried freezing an Indian pickle before? This pickle could be addictive and it add a tart note which would work with winter braises beautifully. I don’t want to be without it. And all that turmeric is good for you.

April – Preserved Lemons

April – Preserved Lemons

You could say that my life is coming up lemons. The best kind, Meyers. An abundance has me making marmalade, preserving, and pickling. I’m sharing the recipe I use for preserved or salted lemons. There are lots of them out there once you start a search. And you don’t have to use Meyers, regular supermarket lemons (you will want to buy organic unwaxed ones) make good preserved lemons as well. It will perhaps be a bit more tart but still delicious. It’s easy to make preserved lemons, it only takes a little patience during the curing time. The little jars you find at gourmet stores are outrageously expensive. Start salting now and you will have lemons to flavor your late summer recipes. The Bon appetit website has a wonderful slideshow highlighting various recipes where they are used, find a link here. Preserved lemons are amazingly adaptable and add flavor to many dishes, not just in Middle Eastern cooking. They are a pantry staple at my house. They add a lovely lemony perfume to a dish without adding acidity.

You can find recipes out there for speeding this up, search the web for them if you are interested. This cure takes about 3 months but the results are worth the wait. To use the lemons once they are ready, rinse off the salt and remove the pulp. It’s the rind that you use. Some cookbooks also recommend scraping off the white pith on the inside of the rind before you use them. I don’t find it absolutely necessary. 

My recipe comes from the book The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant. I have posted several recipes from the book. It is my “go to” source of recipes for making and cooking with pickles, preserves, and Aigre-doux. The recipe is more a ratio, you can scale it up or down depending on how many lemons are available. I have read that it also works for oranges, although I haven’t tried it.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups kosher salt, plus more if needed
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup herbes de Provence
  • 10 lemons, washed and well scrubbed, dried

This is enough cure for at least a dozen large lemons.

Method

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the salt, sugar, and herbes de Provence
  2. Slice the ends off 8 of the lemons and slice into wedges, top to bottom, leaving the wedges connected at one end. Smaller lemons can be cut into 4 wedges, larger ones 6.
  3. Layer some of the cure at the base of a ceramic or glass storage container. Layer in the lemons, sprinkling some of the cure into the center of each before placing it in the jar. Keep layering lemons, add more cure between each layer as well.
  4. Squeeze the juice from the two additional lemons into the jar and coat generously with the salt mixture. If the lemons are not completely covered by juice, sprinkle a layer of salt over the top.
  5. Set aside at room temperature for 4 to 5 days. In a few days lemon juice will leach out of the wedges and mix with the salt, creating a brine.
  6. After 4 or 5 days the lemons should be covered by brine. Check to see that they are submerged. If not you may want to put a plastic lid on top and put a weight on top. I use a glass ramekin on top of the plastic lid to prevent the lemons from bobbing to the surface (that will inhibit proper curing).
  7. Place in a cool, dark corner, giving the lemons and occasional stir, for at least a month but ideally 4 months.
  8. Once cured the lemons will keep for at least a year in the refrigerator as long as they are submerged.

 

Preserved lemons

Preserved lemons

Preserved lemons

Preserved lemons

Small jars make wonderful gifts for those who are not blessed with a lemon tree in their backyard.

April – Preserving Meyer Lemons – Meyer Lemon Aigre-doux

April – Preserving Meyer Lemons – Meyer Lemon Aigre-doux

In April, many of the backyards in Northern California host heavily laden Meyer lemon trees. I can almost hear my tree groan as the branches are bent to the ground with fruit. This year I am determined to preserve as many of the lemons as possible. We suffered the mysterious overnight loss of all the lemons from the tree last year. I’m telling you, literally overnight the tree was bare! Who? What? Neighborhood foragers? It turns out there was a family of opossums nesting in the corner of the yard. Mother opossum must have had a huge dinner of lemons.

opossum family

opossum family

Poor babies, what must have her milk tasted like after all that gluttony? But, they certainly didn’t have any chance of catching scurvy!

Meyer Lemons

Meyer Lemons

Meyer lemons are so sweet that you can eat the rind. When he was a small child, I once found my son snacking on one he had pulled from the tree as if it were an apple.

I am determined to preserve the bounty before mother possum comes for a return visit.

The following is a recipe I have made for several years (with the exception of last). Meyer Lemon Aigre-Doux comes from the book The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant. It is my most often used cookbook for interesting twists on preserving. Paul writes “Meyer lemon aigre-doux is extremely versatile. In spring I make an emulsified vinaigrette to dress grilled asparagus or delicate butter lemon leaves. Just pick out any visible seeds, blend the wedges and aigre-doux liquid until smooth, then drizzle in good olive oil (I also like to add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard). The result is a creamy as mayonnaise. In summer I’ll make a citrus relish to pair with fresh summer green and wax beans by dicing the wedges crosswise and mixing them with celery root slices, chives and olive oil.” 

It is a lovely addition to a marinade for lamb or chicken, and a quick sauce for fish.

“Aigre-doux” is the French term for sweet-and-sour. It’s a mixture of fruit with wine, vinegar, and spices. I’ve made several types from the book (grapes, mandarin orange, cranberry) but the lemon is my absolute favorite.

Meyer lemon aigre-doux vinaigrette

Meyer lemon aigre-doux vinaigrette

I can attest to it being absolutely delicious on grilled asparagus.

Grilled asparagus with Meyer lemon aigre-doux vinaigrette

Grilled asparagus with Meyer lemon aigre-doux vinaigrette

Meyer Lemon Aigre-Doux

Ingredients:

  • 2-3/4 cups of white wine (624 grams)
  • 1-1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon of Champagne vinegar (312 grams)
  • 1 cup of honey (330 grams)
  • 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt (3 grams)
  • 11 to 12 cups of Meyer lemons, ends trimmed and cut into about 6 wedges (depending on the size of your lemons this will be 12 to 14 lemons) (1362 grams)
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 6 sprigs of thyme

Directions:

  1. In a pot over medium-high heat, bring the wine, vinegar, honey and salt to a boil. Keep hot.
  2. Scald 6 pint jars (or run them through the dishwasher) in a large pot of simmering water fitted with a rack – use this pot to process the jars. IMG_4266Right before filling, put the jars on the counter. Into each jar add 1 bay leaf and 1 thyme sprig. IMG_4267Pack the lemon wedges into the jars, using about 12 wedges per jar. IMG_4268Meanwhile soak the lids in a pan of hot water to soften the rubber seal.
  3. Carefully pour the hot brine over the lemons, leaving a 1/2 inch space from the rim of the jar. Check the jars for air pockets, adding more brine if necessary. Wipe the rims with a clean cloth or paper towel, seal with the lids, then screw on the bands until snug but not tight.
  4. Place the jars on the rack in the pot and make sure they are covered by about 1 inch of hot water.
  5. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Start the timer when the water comes to the boil. Turn off the heat and leave for several minutes before removing the jars from the hot water canner.

IMG_4273

I think I will try making marmalade with them. Don’t you think it would be lovely for holiday gifts?

Do you have any favorite recipes for preserving lemons? I will salt some, of course. And there is lemon curd, but does anyone know if it freezes well? I will have LOTS of lemon curd.

I am taking the lemons to dress a salad at Fiesta Friday #114. Fiesta Friday is hosted by Angie at Fiesta Friday and co-hosted by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook. Click on the links to see all the wonderful party food.

November – Cranberry Aigre-doux

November – Cranberry Aigre-doux

Are you tired of your usual cranberry sauce recipe? If so, this cranberry aigre-doux might be the answer to your search for a new version. I make a batch when cranberries are in plentiful in the stores. A few jars in the cupboard are wonderful to use as an unexpected relish at other times of the year. You might remember my recipe for mandarin aigre-doux, this is the same sweet and sour combination but using fresh cranberries.

Cranberry Aigre-Doux

Cranberry Aigre-Doux

Cranberry Aigre-Doux (makes 4 pints)

  • 2 cups plus 3 tablespoons red table wine
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 2 vanilla beans, split in half with seeds scraped out

    Vanilla Beans

    Vanilla Beans

  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 4 star anise

    Star Anise

    Star Anise

  • 6-7 cups of fresh cranberries (this is just about 2 packages)
  1. In a pot over medium-high heat, bring the wine, honey, vinegar, salt, and vanilla bean pods and seeds to a boil.
  2. Scald 4 pint jars in a large pot of simmering water fitted with a rack. You will use this pot to process them. Right before filling the jars, put the drained jars on the counter and fill each with 1 star anise and 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns. Pack in the cranberries. Meanwhile soak the lids in hot water to soften the rubber seal.
  3. Carefully pour the wine-honey liquid over the cranberries, leaving a 1/2 inch space from the rim of the jar. Check for air pockets by poking with a skewer and add more liquid as needed. Add a piece of each vanilla bean to each jar.

    Cranberry Aigre-Duox

    Cranberry Aigre-Duox

  4. Wipe the rims with a clean towel, seal with the lids and screw on the bands to finger tight.
  5. Carefully transfer the jars to the pot of water, the water should cover them by 1 inch. Bring the water back to a boil and process the jars for 15 minutes, starting your timer when the water comes to a boil. Turn off the heat after 15 minutes but let the jars sit in the water for a few minutes. Remove the jars from the water and let cool completely.

If you have questions about basic canning techniques, please consult the internet or a good canning cookbook.

To make a relish from the cranberry aigre-doux, strain the liquid and set aside the cranberries. In a small pot over medium heat, reduce the liquid by half. Stir the cranberries back into the liquid and serve warm.

Cranberry Aigre-Doux

Cranberry Aigre-Doux

I served this relish with my Thanksgiving Turkey Day Warm Up. It was a wonderful counterpoint to the richness of ground turkey and sweet potatoes.

Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet with Cranberry Aigre-Doux

Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet with Cranberry Aigre-Doux

I’m taking this to Fiesta Friday #95, hosted by Angie of the Novice Gardener. This week it is co-hosted by Loretta @ Safari of the Mind and Petra @ Food Eat Love. Come and visit with us to see all the wonderful dishes being brought by the fabulous cooks at the party.

October – Mandarin Aigre-doux

October – Mandarin Aigre-doux

Aigre-doux is a French term and translates to sweet and sour. In Italian cuisine you will see it called by term agrodolce, translated as “agro” (sour) and “dolce” (sweet). In any language the term refers to a delicious sweet and sour sauce or relish. The sweet is usually provided by sugar or honey, and the sour by vinegar and wine.

Mandarins

Mandarins

Mandarins are in season and I’ve been curious to try Mandarin aigre-doux from the book “The Preservation Kitchen” by Paul Virant. The book has more than a half dozen recipes for aigre-doux based on a wide variety of ingredients. Blueberries, pears, butternut squash, grapes, Meyer lemons, mulberries, and even cranberries are included. I’ve made the recipes for grape, Meyer lemon, and cranberry aigre-doux; I recommend them all to you. Grape aigre-doux is fantastic as a Waldorf salad ingredient, I use the Meyer lemon aigre-doux as a sauce for asparagus or in a salad dressing, and cranberries…well what can I say? Thanksgiving is coming.

I do have a complaint about the Mandarin recipe though, the picture in the book shows the Mandarins sliced into rounds which include the peel; however, the recipe calls for peeled, segmented Mandarins. On the other hand, the Meyer lemon aigre-doux uses lemon wedges with the peel, so perhaps you could successfully do the same with the Mandarins. The editors should have caught this before it was published and asked for clarification.

Red wine goes very well with the orange flavor. A sauce made from the Mandarins would be wonderful with duck. Use white wine if you would like to use it with seafood or a milder chicken dish. That’s next on my list.

This is a very simple recipe, the most tedious part is peeling the Mandarins. It’s helpful if you have a chatty person to help, or a backlog of episodes of Castle to watch while you peel and segment.

Mandarin Orange Aigre-Doux (makes 5 pints)

  • 5 teaspoons of black peppercorns
  • 9 cups of peeled and sectioned Mandarins
  • 1 750 mL bottle of red table wine
  • 3/4 cup of red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
  1. Sterilize five pint canning jars, lids, and rings in a large pot of boiling water.
  2. Peel and section the Mandarin oranges.
  3. Combine red wine, red wine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a pot and bring to a boil.
  4. Remove jars from boiling water. Place right side up on a folded dish towel.
  5. Put a teaspoon of black peppercorns in each jar and fill with Mandarin orange segments.
  6. Cover the Mandarin oranges with hot aigre-doux, leaving ½ inch of space at the top of the jar. Wipe the edge of the each jar with a clean towel.
  7. Remove lids and rings from the boiling water.
  8. Place the lids on top of the jars; screw the rings into place—but not too tight.
  9. Add jars to a boiling water canner; they should be covered by 1 inch of water. Process for 15 minutes.
  10. With tongs, remove jars from the water bath and place on a heat proof surface covered with a dish towel. Jars will be very hot.
  11. Check to make sure the lids are sealed (the top should have a small indention after 10 minutes or so).
Mandarin Aigre-Doux

Mandarin Aigre-Doux

Let the Mandarins cure for at least one week, up to one year.

To make a sauce, drain one pint of the aigre-doux liquid into a small pot and simmer until reduced by half. In a blender puree the reduced liquid with the Mandarins until smooth. Fold the puree into about 1/2 cup of creme fraiche and add 1/2 cup of sliced chives. The book uses it with a simple cream of parsnip soup.