While perusing the pages of Canal House Cooking, I found myself at a bit of a loss. You see, every week I look though cookbooks and pick out the recipes that I feel would most appeal to you and to me personally. I don't know if it is the fact that all the recipes in Canal House Cooking, Volume 1 are perfectly seasonally appropriate or if authors Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton and I share an identical palate. These are some ladies whom I feel a serious kinship with—in their book, simplicity reigns, a good cocktail is followed by a meal comprising the best ingredients available. The recipes aren't fussy or fancy, but they are elegant. There is a beautiful minimalism that flows through Canal House Cooking.
The recipes are simple, but the principal is that good ingredients make for good food. One item that kept coming up throughout all the recipes is preserved lemons. It's a common ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking and is especially popular in Moroccan cuisine. If you have never had preserved lemons, imagine a combination of salty, sour, pleasantly astringent, and vaguely vegetal flavor.
Preserved lemons add a greater depth to dishes that typically use lemon juice for acidity; use them yourself and you will want to add them to almost every recipe. Salads, salad dressings, and cocktails are obvious applications, but preserved lemons add an element to grilled and braised meats that is unusual and irreplaceable.
You can find preserved lemons in most Middle Eastern groceries but they are really simple to make at home. The beauty of curing these lemon at home is that you can use them in all stages of their curing process, after about a week. The more time that you keep them, the saltier they get, rinse them accordingly before use.
Once your lemons have been curing for a while you can use them in a wonderfully versatile Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette. Give the lemons a little taste before using them to see how salty they are and then you can decide whether or not you want to rinse them. Use this vinaigrette to add a lemony brightness to greens, potatoes, grilled fish, fresh summer tomatoes, green beans, pretty much anything!
Adapted from Canal House Cooking, Volume 1 by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton.
- Lemons, washed
- Kosher salt
- Sterilized wide-mouthed container with a tight-fitting lid
- Rind of half of a preserved lemon
- Juice of half of a fresh lemon
- 1/3 cup really good extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Cut the lemons (almost all the way through) into quarters, keeping them attached at the stem end. Working over a bowl, tamp the inside of each lemon with salt. Tightly pack the salt-filled lemons into the sterilized container. Pour more salt over the lemons and squeeze the juice from several fresh unsalted lemons into the container as you fill it up.
Store in the refrigerator. Turn the container occasionally for the first few weeks to moisten all of the lemons and the ever-accumulating salty brine. The lemons should eventually become submerged in this brine. If the brine doesn't completely cover them in a month, use a metal kitchen spoon to press the lemons under the surface.
Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette
Finely chop the preserved lemon rind and put it into a small bowl or into the bottom of the bowl you're going to use to dress something (greens, potato salad, fresh tomatoes, roasted peppers, sliced cucumber and celery-you get the idea; you'll see how versatile this vinaigrette is once you've tasted it). Stir in the fresh lemon juice, then the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Taste the vinaigrette and add a little salt if you think it needs it.