Moroccan Staples: Preserved Lemons & Harissa

July 19, 2010

Aunt Suzy says

About 12 years ago the New York Times Sunday magazine ran an article on Moroccan cooking with recipes for preserved lemons (salt-brined lemons) and harissa (a spicy hot pepper condiment or sauce).  This single article opened up doors to flavors, a cooking culture and cooking methods that I had never been exposed to before – and which dramatically changed the way I cook ever since then!   Homemade preserved lemons and harissa really outshine storebought, but if you don’t have the time or ingredients to make one or both of these, Le Moulins Mahjoub and Mustapha’s Moroccan both make very high quality Moroccan/North African ingredients including these two items.  Look to kitchen or specialty food stores and your local co-ops.  Both are available, as well, through Amazon.com.

Margaux says

If Meyer lemons aren’t available (they’re only in season from December-March), you can use regular lemons.   And you can buy preserved lemons in some stores, like Whole Foods, but they’re not NEARLY as good as homemade.

PRESERVED LEMONS

6 Meyer lemons

1/2 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon cardamom pods

2-3 bay leaves

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, more if needed

This recipe is enough for a one-quart mason jar; adjust amounts accordingly for larger or smaller glass containers.  A wide-mouth jar is recommended, making it easier to remove the lemons for use later. Sterilize the jar by pouring boiling water into it.  Pour out the water and then proceed as follows. Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom, sprinkle salt on the exposed flesh, then reshape the fruit.  Place 1 tablespoon salt on the bottom of the jar.  Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt and the herbs/spices between layers.  Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons.  Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to cover the lemons.  You might find recipes that call for covering lemons with water, but we think using juice creates a better product.  Leave a little air space before putting the lid on the jar.  Place the jar in the refrigerator and shake the jar daily to distribute the salt.

The lemons are ready to use after 4-6 weeks.   Most recipes use only the peel.  To use, remove the desired amount from the jar and discard the pulp unless the recipe instructs otherwise.  Rinse the peel under running water.  Preserved lemons will keep up to a year in the refrigerator.  The salt brine can be used two or three times over the course of a year.  Remove bay leaves and coriander seeds after about 2 months, as they will make the lemons taste bitter over time.  NOTE:  I have also seen red peppercorns or a slice of red bell pepper put into the jar to add some color.

HARISSA SAUCE

1/2 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper (available atPenzey’s Spices)

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk all ingredients together and place in a small, sterilized jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Use as instructed in recipes and pass as a condiment when serving Moroccan Food.  This will also keep up to one year in the fridge by pouring a little olive oil over the Harissa after each use to prevent mold.  NOTE:  There are probabaly as many recipes for Harissa as there are cooks.  It’s usually a fiery pepper paste or sauce, but I have also seen sweet versions of this from Tunesia.  We enjoy this recipe as well as the Le Moulins Mahjoub and Mustapha’s Moroccan products.

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