Our group of young friends was enjoying Shabbat lunch alfresco. Rachel was a newlywed and already proving to be an amazing cook and hostess.
I still remember taking a bite of her Israeli salad and thinking, “What is that incredible flavor?” The citrus tang was familiar but had an intensity and depth that I had never tasted before. After a few more flavorful mouthfuls, I still couldn’t figure out what it was. So I asked Rachel, “What am I tasting?”
She laughed and answered, “Preserved lemons.”
Rachel’s mother, Rica, soon showed me how simple they are to make.
An indispensable ingredient in the Moroccan kitchen, preserved lemons add a burst of sunshine to any dish. Not too tart or acidic, they enhance any fish, chicken or lamb dish and add a unique twist to any salad. I have learned from Rachel to keep a steady supply in my refrigerator.
My Iraqi grandmother Aziza always had a bowl of preserved lemons as a condiment on her table. She sliced the lemons in rings and brined them in salt, paprika and turmeric, which gave them a reddish tinge. I was too afraid to taste them. Although I never tried her preserved lemons, her Turshi was an obsession of mine. Turshi are vegetables pickled in a salty, sugary, curry and turmeric brine. My kids love it, too, so I always have a few jars of Turshi in my fridge. This pickle dish, also known as chakla bakla, has a quick cooking method that ensures that the vegetables retain a delightful crunch, as well as most of the fiber and nutrients.
Besides their delicious flavor and use in numerous Middle Eastern and North African recipes, these pickles and preserved lemons are full of probiotics that boost gut health and the immune system.
RACHEL’S PRESERVED LEMONS
12 medium thick-skinned lemons, washed and dried
1 cup kosher salt
Remove the stem of the lemon and make one cut down halfway, then crisscross the lemon and make another cut halfway, making sure that the lemon stays intact in four sections.
Stuff all sides of the lemon with a good quantity of kosher salt and squeeze lemon closed.
Place lemons inside 1-liter glass jar with airtight lid, and repeat, pushing down the lemons and adding more until jar is full.
Seal jar tightly and shake contents, then set on countertop.
The next day add a few more lemons, and repeat the following day, until jar is so full no more can be added.
Shake daily for a week so juices coat lemons.
After one week, place in refrigerator for a month or two, when they will be ready to use.
NANA AZIZA’S TURSHI
2 cups white vinegar
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 red wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons turmeric
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound cauliflower, cut into florets
1 pound green beans, trimmed
2 carrots, sliced into thin strips
1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips
6 cloves garlic, chopped
Combine all vinegars with water and spices and bring to a boil.
Add vegetables and boil for 3 minutes.
Transfer vegetables to bowl to cool. Reserve brine.
Place vegetables in airtight jars, then cover with brine.
Pickles are ready to eat after 3 days in the refrigerator.
Rachel Emquies Sheff’s family roots are Spanish Moroccan. Sharon Gomperts’ family hails from Baghdad and El Azair in Iraq. Known as the Sephardic Spice Girls, they have collaborated on the Sephardic Educational Center’s projects, SEC Food Group and community cooking classes. Join them on Facebook at SEC FOOD.