Thursday 28 May 2009

Preserved Lemon Stews and Intuition

I went to my sister’s for dinner the other night and her partner offered to rock Sylvia in her pram. He was so gentle I had to tell him that she needed firmer rocking. So much about bringing up a baby is a matter of ducking and diving around conflicting advice and going with your own intuition but some of it is counter-intuitive. Rocking a baby hard, patting a baby hard or even wrapping a baby in a swaddling cloth to sleep are against our instincts. Yet they work.

In the same way, using preserved lemon seems counter-intuitive. When I first started using it, quite recently, I was surprised to find I had to rinse it first and to discard the flesh. The idea of throwing out the flesh and eating the peel just seems wrong. Then once you have done this, the taste is so weird – quite salty and bitter. But a little of this in a stew or salad adds a distinctive and interesting flavour.

My first attempt recently at using preserved lemon was a stew that seemed a combination of a chickpea salad and a silverbeet sauté that I made last year. I also added lots of cauliflower, which I love. The stew was nice but a bit overwhelmed by the lemon. It was rescued the second night unexpectedly by adding a good handful of grated cheese. The notes of what I did are below.

After this stew, I saw Jules recipe for Red Lentil and Preserved Lemon Soup on Stone Soup. It seemed similar to my recent tomato lentil soup but the flavours were so different that I had to try it. One appealing aspect of the soup was the addition of fennel seeds which I was sure lingered somewhere in the pantry unused. I spent much time searching and discovering all sorts of treasures at the back of my spice shelf but no fennel seeds. In the end I decided to substitute mustard seeds.

By the time E came home from work, I was far behind in making dinner, thanks to my turning the spice shelf upside down. By then Sylvia was cranky, Zinc wanted me to come outside to play and I was feeling a bit ragged. As E walked in the door I thrust Sylvia at him and asked him to hold her while I chopped the last few vegies. These vegetables were chopped larger than usual in my hurry. Once that was done I could let it stew while I attended to our wee girl.

One of the reasons I made the soup was that I had some leftover feta from making the Red Onion, Feta and Olive Tart. The soup seemed to have a middle eastern flavour which would welcome feta. I forgot to put cayenne pepper in it so I sprinkled a bit on top of the feta.

I made a few other changes to the seasoning and vegetables. But mostly I was concerned that the mustard would not complement the other flavours. I need not have worried. The soup was hearty, spicy and delicious. E was very impressed and we both had a second helping because it tasted so good.

I am sending this red lentil and preserved lemon soup (the more successful of the two stews) to Lori Lynn of Taste with the Eyes who is hosting this month’s My Legume Love Affair: the eleventh helping of the event, which Susan of The Well Seasoned Cook founded.

Red Lentil and Preserved Lemon Soup
(adapted from Stone Soup)
serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
2 brown onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp fennel seeds (I used brown mustard seeds)
3 cloves, lightly ground
1 cinnamon stick
cayenne pepper to taste
2 carrots, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
3 medium potatoes, scrubbed & finely diced
⅛ cabbage, shredded
1 x 700g jar of passata (tomato puree)
2 passata jars of water
1½ cups dried red lentils
2 quarters preserved lemon, rinsed, rind only, finely chopped
1-2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 bay leaves
1 tsp stock powder
fetta or natural yoghurt, to serve (optional)

Heat oil in a stockpot over a medium heat. Add onion and cook 5 min stirring occasionally until the onion is soft. Add garlic, ginger and spices and cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the remaining ingredients, bring to the boil, cover and simmer about an hour. Stir occasionally to stop it sticking to the bottom. Add more water if it is starting to dry out. Remove bay leaves. Taste and season. You can blend this soup but it was quite thick so I didn’t bother (and neither did Jules). Serve with feta cheese or yoghurt.

Silverbeet, Cauli, Chickpea and Preserved Lemon Stew
Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
½ cauliflower, chopped
pinch of salt
½ a bunch of silverbeet (chard) – or about 12 large stalks, chopped
400g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp tahini
½ tsp chilli paste
juice of 1 small lemon*
1 tbsp preserved lemon rind, rinsed and chopped*
1 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp agave
1 cup water
grated cheese to serve
* We found the stew very lemony on the first night when I served it without cheese – so in future I might use less lemon juice and/or preserved lemon.

Fry onion in oil for about 5 minutes in a large frypan. Add garlic and fry another minute. Add cauliflower, silverbeet stalks, chickpeas, tahini and chilli paste. Cook about 20 minutes on a low to medium heat (I cooked the cauliflower for 20 minutes and another 10 once I put the stalks in but I think this was too long). Add silverbeet leaves, lemon juice, preserved lemon, soy sauce, agave and water. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Serve hot and sprinkled with cheese. It goes well with rice.

On stereo:
Lennon Legend: the Very Best of John Lennon


  1. Mmm they both look good! I've never tried preserved lemons before. I'm thinking I should now!

  2. Thanks Vegetation - preserved lemons are interesting and mine have been in the fridge over a year now and still seem good to use - which shows that I don't use them as often as I should

  3. I had no idea you were supposed to rock and pat a baby hard. Why is that?

    I've always wanted to preserve some lemons, maybe I should!

  4. I've never had preserved lemons! I'll try them when I'm brave enough. =) Great idea to replace the fennel seeds with mustard seeds. I love mustard seeds.

  5. Thanks Lorraine - I don't really know but possibly some of the cliches make us think babies are more fragile than they are - although it is easier to be firm with your own than someone else's

    Thanks Ashley - if you like capers then I think you might like preserved lemons! And yes I love mustard seeds but was worried they wouldn't be in line with the middle eastern feel of the dish

  6. I always have a jar of preserved lemons on hand in my fridge, probably because I *do* use the pulp as well as the peel, and don't rinse them. With them, though, a little does go long. This duo of recipes sound just grand, Johanna.

    I expect your babe is going to love being pushed on swing when she is old enough to enjoy the it.

  7. Preserved lemon does have an unusual flavor that takes just a little getting used to but then it becomes an obsession, at least it has with me.
    That stew looks excellent and so does the soup. I did a lentil and beet salad I have yet to post. Very good.

  8. I've yet to try preserved lemons--maybe a good thing, as I had no idea you were supposed to discard the flesh! Clearly, my intuition can't be trusted (better not let me rock Sylvia--I'll just watch in awe as you do it!) ;)

  9. Thanks susan - interesting that you don't rise and don't discard the flesh - I am quite confused now about if I should or shouldn't - maybe it is more intense and salty the way you use it???

    Thanks Tanna - a lentil and beet salad with preserved lemon sounds great - will look forward to it - I think taste of preserved lemon is growing on me

    thanks Ricki - intuition can be overrated - I actually think it might be sometimes the unconscious learning we do - and I wish I could claim the way I rocked sylvia always got her to sleep

  10. That soup sounds mighty tasty. Like the feta garnish a lot.

    I made a soup for MLLA too; green curry soup with tofu and peas.

    You have inspired me to cook with preserved lemon.
    Lori Lynn

  11. Thank you for the preserved lemon ideas. I made a huge jar of them, and now am looking for good ways to use them up. You've given me quite a few!


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